After my four hour long informal interaction with US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the residence of US Ambassador on the rainy evening of April 6, 2009, I had in my comments mentioned that now the ISI was the immediate target of the US Establishment. This was no “breaking news” as everyone who keeps an eye on the ongoing war on terror knew well that US was hell-bent on:
1.Getting the Pakistan Army sucked into domestic turmoil in Swat, FATA and beyond Waziristan, and
2.Reining in what the US calls “rogue elements” in the ISI
There are confirmed reports that to achieve its objectives the CIA hired the services of at least a dozen Afghan warlords inside Afghanistan and provided through them arms and finances to militants in FATA and Swat to carry out extensive death and destruction by devastating attacks in the country. It was like a double-edged sword not only to get the Army to launch attacks against Taliban on Pakistani side of the border but also to give a message to the ISI that the CIA can use the Pakistanis – Taliban of the TTP- against their own security forces.
It was in this background that after putting up with so much for so long, the prime intelligence agency of the country ultimately confronted the CIA Director Leon E. Panetta with some highly classified and irrefutable evidence. Panetta was startled when Director-General ISI, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, a no-nonsense General, placed the facts before him in Islamabad on November 20, 2009.
The “deliberate leaks” after the meeting of the spy chiefs of the two countries spoke of the mind of the ISI and the armed forces of Pakistan. General Pasha had earlier conveyed the facts about the interference of CIA in acts of terrorism in Pakistan to the Government but realizing that either the message was not strongly conveyed to the Americans or it had no desired impact on them, finally put its foot down and expressed serious concerns over the CIA’s crude interference in the country’s internal matters.
The proof about instances of covert US support to some hardened militant outfits and terrorist activities they carried out over the past few weeks and months were presented to Panetta. It was indeed a startling revelation for the top US spy and a bold maneuver of Pakistan Army. General Pasha’s move surprised Panetta as the evidence presented was categorical in proving that the CIA officials provide assistance to perpetrators of some of the most serious and deadly attacks on offices and key persons in Pakistan’s security services. He was told that in view of the negative impact on Pakistan’s efforts in its ‘war on terror’ the CIA must stop such activities. The clarity with which the information was meant to be a loud message to Washington and CIA headquarters at Langley that if they wanted Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror; it must give up playing a double game. Pakistan has publicly expressed concerns over the freedom enjoyed by the Indian intelligence agency RAW is operating from Afghanistan. RAW is not only involved in acts of terrorism in the NWFP but also in Balochistan. India cannot undertake such wide-scale activities in this region without the approval and backing of the CIA. The question is: how did India develop such a huge presence in Kabul?
What has raised alarm bells in Islamabad is that Maulvi Fazlullah who escaped from Swat is living openly in Afghanistan under the protection of Afghan intelligence. The TTP leaders including Hakeemullah Mehsud have also being protected and allowed to operate from Afghanistan. All this could not happen without the knowledge of Americans.
There are reports that TTP leaders are provided satellite phones operated by a Gulf based Western company and they have been talking freely to BBC and other media organizations without any fear of being detected and targeted by drones or missiles. Then there are also credible reports that a helicopter that flew from Afghanistan before Oct. 17, when operation Rah-e-Nejat in South Waziristan was launched, evacuated the top leadership of the TTP from Waziristan to Afghanistan. The Americans also vacated some of the crucial posts along the border with South Waziristan in an apparent bid to provide safe passage to the fleeing Pakistani Taliban. The terrorists arrested in Pakistan during the operation told their interrogators about their links with the US and Indian agencies. There is credible information that full logistic and auxiliary support is still being provided to anti-Pakistan Taliban from Nuristan Province and several top officials from Afghan and Indian intelligence networks were seen active in the area.
So, it is CIA’s agenda to get the Pak Army and now the Air Force also spend itself in internal security operations and erode the morale and capabilities of ISI so that Pakistan’s nuclear assets could be targeted in one way or the other. The CIA’s new agenda started to be implemented as soon as the present Government took over. On many occasions since, Washington has been publicly blaming ISI for its links with some of the Taliban leaders including the Haqqani group. During the meeting with Prime Minister Gilani in Washington in August 2008, Director CIA presented him with a charge sheet against Pakistani intelligence agencies for their alleged involvement in Jihadi activities. In order to justify its intended interference in Balochistan, the CIA also raised the bogey of the presence of Taliban Shura in or around Quetta.
PPP’s History of Undermining ISI
The whole scenario became very grim as the Government appeared to have succumbed to American pressure to cut the ISI to size and make it a carpet lion. It was in this backdrop that a notification was issued in mysterious circumstances placing the ISI under the Interior Ministry; the notification was withdrawn the same day when the move backfired. It is no coincidence that during the two stints of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister, a perception developed that the PPP undermined the effectiveness of the ISI. That perception was also based on facts. On the instructions of the BB Government, Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, the then DG ISI, purged 125 officers of the Agency [from the ranks of Major General to Colonel] who were identified to be “rogue elements” by the CIA. Now there is a strong perception that the present leadership is not presenting the interests and concerns of the state of Pakistan to its ‘Americans friends’ and is just raising issues in a casual manner. Perhaps that was the reason that the Army leadership had to make unusual public remarks in a press release, issued by the ISPR after the Corps Commanders meeting in October 2009, expressing serious concern over the Kerry-Lugar Bill saying that certain of its clauses were intrusive and against the national interests and were thus unacceptable. The Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar snubbed the Pakistan Army accusing it of ‘crossing the line’ bringing the differences into the open setting a new precedent and further undermining the state of Pakistan.
The crude interference by the CIA in Pakistan’s internal affairs has not gone well with the Establishment and infuriated the Pakistan Army. If the Americans did not stop its activities to help the Pakistani Taliban against the Army, cooperation with the US in the war in Afghanistan would come to an abrupt end. I am quite sure that if the Army says NO the whole nation will back it. It was owing to this reason that COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, while talking to newsmen on the occasion of rolling out of first JF-17 Thunder Aircraft at Kamra on November 24, declared that the US would have to take Pakistan into confidence and taking into consideration the armed forces know-how to defend the country.
This report was first published by Pakistan Observer on Dec. 7, 2009.