IPCS Discussion

'Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan'

29 Jan, 2017    ·   5226

Sarral Sharma reports on the proceedings of the discussion held on 18 January 2017

On 18 January 2017, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) hosted an interaction with historian and political scientist Dr Hein Kiessling, who spoke on the issues covered in his latest book, titled 'Faith, Unity, Discipline: The Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI) Of Pakistan'. The discussion was chaired by former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr TCA Raghavan.

The following are the introductory remarks, the transcript of Dr Kiessling's speech, and the discussion that followed.
Dr TCA Raghavan
Former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan

The book raises questions about the institutional culture of the ISI, and its relations with the Pakistan army and the civilian leadership. The director general (DG) of the ISI reporting to Pakistan’s prime minister has always been a formal arrangement rather than a real one. Whenever it has been a real arrangement, for instance, when Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt became DG of the ISI during Nawaz Sharif's second term as the prime minister, the civil-military equation in Pakistan seemed more troubled. There are references in the book to the 1990s, when numerous major purges were carried out in the ISI. Despite those purges, the question remains about the functional autonomy of the organisation that possibly became dysfunctional when Osama bin Laden was found in Abottabad, Pakistan.

The second question is about the mindset with which Pakistan persisted with its Afghanistan and India policies, both which did not really work. Admittedly, Pakistan has done a lot for Afghanistan. Yet, its policy has not worked since 2003-04. The Afghan elite is dependent on Pakistan in many ways. Despite all that, Pakistan had to depend on the Taliban and similar fronts to exert influence in Afghanistan. Similarly, the use of militants against India has yielded diminishing returns for Pakistan. This has in turn caused enormous damages in Pakistan itself. 

In 1998-99 it appeared that the political balance had decisively shifted in favour of the civilian government in Pakistan after the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif took office. The pieces really seemed to be in place for the Agra initiative by India's then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 2013, a similar situation unfolded. The pieces again seemed to be in place for Pakistan’s incumbent Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, but in a matter of few months, that assessment turned out to be completely wrong. 

Dr Hein G. Keissling
Historian, political scientist, and author, 'Faith, Unity, Discipline: The Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI)'.

'Faith, Unity, Discipline: The Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI)' is an extended version of the author’s 2011 book, 'ISI und R&AW: Die Geheimdienste Pakistans und Indiens'. ‘Faith, Unity, and Discipline’ is a more detailed work on the history of the ISI. 

The ISI was founded in 1948. However, it faced a moral crisis after losing the erstwhile East Pakistan in 1971. The golden period for the ISI began in 1980s after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan received money and military equipments to help the US fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Interestingly, it was the ISI, and not the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was actually calling the shots in Afghanistan. After the defeat of the Soviets, the slogan – "we are second to none" – came up in Pakistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, Pakistan thought India would give up Kashmir. But that did not happen.
The ISI became more entangled in the Afghan quagmire in the early 1990s. With the Taliban upsurge, the ISI was finding it difficult to handle other mujahideen groups in Afghanistan. The first contact between the ISI and the Taliban was made in December 1994. The Taliban asked the ISI to support them and not Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or other Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan. 

The Mumbai attacks took place in November 2008. Such an operation could not have been carried out without the knowledge of the ISI leadership. Considering the political explosiveness of the event, Pakistan's army chief would have been informed prior to the operation. It is impossible to have "an ISI within the ISI." The ISI chief listens only to the army chief.

The Raymond Davis affair took place in January 2011. The then US President Obama urged Davis's immediate release citing diplomatic immunity. The then US Senator John Kerry visited Islamabad to discuss the matter with the Pakistani leadership. Even the then CIA Chief Leon Panetta was asked whether Raymond Davis was his man, but he did not admit to anything.

The US Special Forces conducted Operation Geronimo in Pakistan in May 2011. It is still unthinkable that the ISI’s top leadership was unaware of bin Laden's whereabouts within Pakistan. The story of the courier – which many believe was the main clue for the US agencies to reach to bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad – is not real. Most likely, Laden was sold out, which could not have been possible without the knowledge of two or three people in DG, ISI’s office.

General elections were held in Pakistan in 2013. Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) became the third strongest party. In 2014, Khan began the Islamabad siege movement along with the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chief, Tahir ul Qadri, to bring down the incumbent Sharif government. But the siege failed after the intervention by Pakistan's then new Chief of Army Staff, Gen Raheel Sharif. However, the question remains whether the ISI was involved in Khan's rise as a political figure since 2011.

In the foreseeable future, Afghanistan and Kashmir will remain the primary focus of the organisation. Inside Pakistan, the ISI will have its eyes and ears on the political machinery. It will remain the political watchdog for the military. In the present situation, the hottest potato for the ISI is neither Afghanistan nor Kashmir but Balochistan, due to pressure from China. Pakistan does not fear losing Balochistan as the security agencies are in control of the situation in the province. Pakistan will continue to raise the issue of India's alleged involvement in Balochistan at international organisations such as the UN.
Rapporteured by Sarral Sharma, Researcher, IReS, IPCS.