Help Pakistan rein in the ISI

September 23, 2011

By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.

Admiral Mike Mullen’s blunt declaration on Thursday that a Taliban faction known as the Haqqani network acts as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency is a welcome shift in U.S. policy. After a decade of privately cajoling the Pakistani military to stop its disastrous policy of sheltering the Afghan Taliban, the United States is publicly airing the truth.

Pakistan’s top military spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), supported the Haqqanis as they carried out an attack on the American embassy last week, Mullen said during Congressional testimony. Last year, they arrested a Taliban leader who engaged in peace talks without their permission, according to American officials. And many Afghans suspect ISI involvement in the assassination this week of the head of Afghan peace talks that did not involve Pakistan.

The airing of the ISI’s links to the Haqqanis is long overdue. To me, the ISI is a cancer on Pakistan. It is vital, though, that American officials punish the Pakistani military–not all Pakistanis–for the ISI’s actions.

Dominated by hard-line ultra-nationalists obsessed with defeating archrival India, the ISI has killed Pakistani journalists who openly criticize it, harassed human rights activists and undermined efforts to establish democracy. A shadow government unaccountable to the country’s weak civilian government, the ISI is widely feared by Pakistanis.

The agency is dominated by military officers wedded to a paranoid, antiquated and dangerous mindset the C.I.A. helped foment during the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad, according to American and Pakistani officials. More ultranationalists than jihadists, ISI officers believe they are the true guardians of Pakistan. To them, the U. S. is an untrustworthy and dissolute nation that is in rapid decline. India is Pakistan’s primary threat. And militants are proxies that can be controlled.

Instead of blaming all Pakistanis for the action of the ISI, the United States must help Pakistan reform an out-of-step, out-of-control agency. Military aid to Pakistan should be halted until the ISI stops sheltering the Afghan Taliban. At the same time, civilian aid to Pakistan should be continued and even increased.

I have a clear bias when it comes to the ISI and the Haqqanis. In November 2008, two Afghan colleagues and I were kidnapped outside Kabul by the Haqqani network. Within days, they shifted us from Afghanistan over the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas. There, the Haqqanis enjoyed a safe haven where they plan spectacular attacks on Kabul, hide from American troops and hold kidnap victims. After seven months of imprisonment, we escaped from captivity.

During my time in Pakistan’s Tribal areas, I saw no effort by Pakistani security forces to confront the Haqqanis. Instead, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants openly walked the streets of large towns, set off explosions during bomb-making classes and brainwashed young men into being suicide bombers. The Taliban operated the local police, schools and road repair crews. The Afghan Taliban fighters that the U.S. thought it had defeated in 2001 had simply shifted a few miles east, into the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Pakistani civilian officials say the Pakistani military views the Haqqanis as proxies they can use to thwart Indian encroachment in Afghanistan. When American forces pull out of the country, Pakistani generals see the Haqqanis as a card they can play in the resulting vacuum. If peace talks do emerge, the Haqqanis can serve as Pakistan’s proxies there as well.

The delusion of this approach is the ISI’s belief that the Haqqanis can be controlled. The agency has lost control of militants it trained in the 1990s to attack Indian forces in Kashmir. Now known as the “Pakistani Taliban,” the militants have declared war on the Pakistani army and state, killing an estimated 2,100 Pakistani civilians this year, according to news accounts.

During my time in captivity, I saw repeated examples of the Haqqanis and the Pakistani Taliban working seamlessly together. Afghan Taliban derided the Pakistani army as an apostate force that was the enemy of any true Muslim. The ISI’s obsession with India is prompting it to follow policies that endanger Pakistan.

One former American military official who served in Pakistan presented an even more frightening scenario to me earlier this year. He said that Pakistani generals might have concluded that the Haqqanis have grown so powerful in North Waziristan that the Pakistani army cannot defeat them. After coddling the Haqqanis for a decade, the ISI has created a Frankenstein it cannot control.


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why is the united states shying away from having a written agreement of information about the intelligence this means the USA is hiding something from Pakistan remember USA is in between the devil nad the deep sea and we Pakistanis are trying to rescue its honour if it retains some.

Posted by ajklodhi | Report as abusive

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Posted by Reuters Blog: Help Pakistan rein in the ISI | | Report as abusive

Wow! Very well written, true! and strait to the point! Thank You.

Posted by thelaowai | Report as abusive

It is a grave mistake to assume that the Muslim organizations the USA is contending with are “top down” centralized ones. Most American organizations may be, but in most of the world life is more chaotic.

The USA needs to stop trying to find a “boogey man” to blame for our failures in Asia. We need to get out and study before we try to engage again. At least part of our problem is that we are centralized and dissent is discouraged strongly here. Then we put someone like Dick Cheney at the top and what happens? You can see.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

The United States is airing only a part of the truth, that’s the Pakistani hand, the ISI, which has been nurturing extremist elements in Pakistan, Afghanistan and even in Kashmir. But what about the American hand, the equally covetous and culpable CIA, which gave birth to these militant organizations? Will the United state ever admit to their role in creating and fostering militancy across the world?

Posted by Avaduta | Report as abusive

The real question is, what are we doing to help Pakistan deal with its poverty, or its floods and subsequent outbreaks of Dengue fever? ia-15024316

Where were the American military helicopters during last year’s floods, or during this year’s repeat of the same? They should have been swarming like flies over Sindh. Why were no contingency plans put in place for using the U.S. military in a good-will “hearts and minds” disaster aid mission, after the same thing happened previously?

When southern Taiwan was hit by a huge typhoon a few years ago, where were the Chinese? Why did the Taiwanese government allow a situation to develop where it became obvious they couldn’t cope? Why didn’t Taiwan ask the military of the mainland Chinese to come and help them? They could have put limits on assistance. Invite just enough P.R.O.C. forces to help, under light-touch R.O.C. supervision. They could have defused the tensions across the Taiwan Strait at a stroke, and deflated for another generation any possibility of their people, or the people of mainland China, giving political support for a cross-straits war. It would have been the biggest propaganda coup against hard-line communists since Nixon and Kissinger visited Mao. But it didn’t happen because of a lack of imagination.

Similarly, when Cuba offered hundreds of well-trained doctors during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, why didn’t George W. Bush accept their offer? It’s not like New Orleans is the central hub of American secrets that needs to be protected from foreign medics looking at it. What was he thinking, refusing Castro’s offer? Perhaps Bush didn’t want Americans to see how good “socialised” healthcare could be…

We’re missing opportunities for détente – for expressing the brotherhood of man in welfare and politics (separately of course), in a way that will as Tony Blair puts it, make the militants irrelevant. Whether our ideological opponents have good will to us or not, we have to give them a chance for détente, and we must show them that we regard them as human beings and trust them to regard us the same way.

Why don’t our politicians have more imagination?

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

If they have resources for weapons, Bombs etc, why they require AID, To Help pak poor pak people, first anyone should know who rules or administers (ISI, Army, politicians Or The Jihad’s) in few days china will be in rule, They have already build military ports, Nuclear plants and Chinese army is actively building Roads Its their part of “Pearl Necklace” to secure Oil gateways.

Posted by LewisAI | Report as abusive

God helps those who help themselves not backstabbers.

Posted by LewisAI | Report as abusive

*Yawn* Propaganda against ISI continues. US should admit it failed in Afghanistan and leave the region instead of using Pak Army/ISI and Haqqanis as scapegoat. Pakistani people fully support the ISI. With “clear bias” against ISI this article is not worth reading and Reuters shouldn’t allow such articles to appear on front page.

Posted by ISIAgent | Report as abusive

I think it’s a great article!

@ matthewslyman:

Well, in case of Taiwan I understand why they didn’t want Chinese help (maybe it applies to other cases as well) – they didn’t want to allow the Chinese government to create an image for the mainland Chinese that Taiwan is a rotting power that needs support of the Chinese government and thus cannot stay independent for it’s own good…

Similar could go for Pakistan, where the military part of the government doesn’t want to allow any criticism of it’s actions. Would they treat US intervention as an insult or as a war declaration? Clearly, US could not help Pakistanis without their consent. The problem is, Pakistan is not a democratic country. The government there doesn’t care about individual needs, but rather about the needs of the state.
But on the other hand, true, if the offer was suggested, Pakistan may have used it (it’s important to give such offer in the first place!). Pity that the US power is sometimes so big and bureaucratic that it misses the political opportunities that would greatly help in overcoming deep anti-US and anti-West sentiments there.

Posted by Radek.kow1 | Report as abusive

Opinions presented as ‘factoids’ as usual, It is one of many pathetic attempts to malign Pakistan and ISI.Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism but still we are always portrayed as exporters of terrorism.

Posted by waqas786 | Report as abusive

“Where were the American military helicopters during last year’s floods, or during this year’s repeat of the same?”

There were helicopters as well as an assault ship that participated in the rescue efforts. On top of that the US provided the largest amount of aid, about a third of the total $1.8B raised directly from other governments around the world. Three American Christian relief workers were murdered in Swat. The Pakistanis still hate us and we will continue to offer support and aid.

Posted by Idle | Report as abusive

This article borders on dellusional. The Pakistan military and ISI are the only working institutions in Pakistan. If the writer and other Americans actually think that Pakistan is going to pressurize its military and intelligence for these nefarious westerners–they need to get their heads checked. The americans are crybabys in a few days they’ll be back to begging the Pakistanis for help and intelligence after they are done lying to cover up their own failiures.

Posted by PakNationalist | Report as abusive

Matthewslyman, your comments are exactly on point. Thank you.
Of course, asking for political imagination is almost as futile as expecting bankers to actuate any sentient form of cognition–except how to get that last dime out of your pocket.

Posted by skteze | Report as abusive

@matthewslyman – You talk of floods and poverty in Pakistan and these regions are so corrupt in use of funds for public cause despite multiple billions that flow to the cause.

It’s not lack of political imagination it’s the experience hardened practical wisdom in some of these cases. Peace building is the current phase in Afghanistan and you’ve seen what these rogue elements have done to the peace maker. The conditions are there yet to pass this unconditioned love that you refer to some of these places.

The political imagination is much needed in receiving contries for self-reliance and saving for the rainy day rather expecting this imagination from outside.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

[…] Help Pakistan rein in the ISI […]

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Knowing too much, I am as biased as you, although I hold no grudge against Sirajuddin and his tribe. BUT I disagree with you on the means to the end. My solution, communicated to, and rejected by, Senator Kerry and VP Biden, in April 2009, is to cut off all Military aid to Pakistan, let the country default, and to covertly assist the Balochi Freedom Fighters to free Balochistan from the iron grip of the ISI. A free Balochistan,serves a double US purpose. A thorn in Iran’s side as well as a severe blight on the ISI which will cause it to implode. They already lost East Pakistan/Bangladesh. Mullen is a Gentleman/Diplomat/Commander. Very nice man. Saw him with Holbrooke and Patterson “explain” the AfPak strategy to President Zardari in early April 2009 at the Presidential palace in Islamabad. Late that night, past midnight in the privacy of his Library, the President joked that the ISI anti-India obsession was honed by Musharaff and each officer had to swear to march into Srinagar and fly the flag atop the State Capital bldg, or die trying. It was the Mush that arranged for UBL to be holed up in a military cantonment, and Mullah Omar in Quetta, believing them safe, as a lure to keep US military aid flowing. UBL capture is a credit to Panetta who was not fooled…

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive

On point, EXCEPT let the Paks do it themselves. Everytime someone else “messes” in another country’s business, bad things happen to the country that “messes.” We wouldn’t want anybody messing around in our business. We have no right to mess in theirs. The American Empires exists no longer.

Posted by neahkahnie | Report as abusive

Blaming the ISI alone won’t hack it. Found it quite telling that the headline quote in the Pak press,, from the Pak Army Chief was that the US knows who else is involved in the Haqqani network but stopped short of saying who. The US-ISI rift is an internal spat. There is lack of real political will and imagination, because the motives of those in power aren’t aligned with what the common joe sees.

Posted by Sal20111 | Report as abusive

[…] Help Pakistan rein in the ISI […]

Posted by Pakistani PM Gilani hits back at U.S. accusations – Top news – Financial news | Report as abusive

World Peace possible only through Khilafah, all Islamic Countries military heads should check Islamic History and work for Khilafah for peace of the world.

Posted by JackPit | Report as abusive

Haqqani has been and is CIA operator so Mr.David should ask what if CIA did all this. Fabricating evidence is so easy when you plan the event yourself, who knows who is talking to whom and who knows when and where it is recorded. There is no independent evidence of any event, it is all about what you want to hear.
ISI supported CIA covertly so many times and handed over Talibans and Al-Qaida in thousands so why not Haqqani?

In retrorespect do you remember Raymond Davis, where is this sharp shooter “Diplomat” as declared by Mr.Obama in his public speech. Have you tried him in USA as promised by Senator Kerry, after killing two innocents in Lahore. Mr. Raymond Davis(what ever his real name may be) did not even appeared in any court of Law in USA so are the Americans operatives allowed to freely kill some one in other part of World and return home safely with the help of American Consulate and be free?
Pakistanis are very lucky that Raymond Davis was caught and pubic pressure resulted in media led investigation about CIA contractors roaming in Pakistani cities. ISI helped his legal escape but more pleasant results emerged that suicide Bombings have almost stopped in Pakistani Cities after legal eviction of Raymond Davis and similar gang of contractors hired by CIA. Circumstantial evidence and events indicate that these CIA hired security contractors were the culprits behind arranging suicide bombings in Pakistani cities to frustrate the people and to give excuse to Government to keep aligned with CIA. Mr. Raymond Davis event provided the general public deep insight and forced Govt to (unwillingly) evict contractors like him which saved many lives. Do you know ISI role, they provided the lawyer and money to let Mr. Raymond Davis out !!!

Posted by Facetruth | Report as abusive

[…] – have performed anemically. And Pakistan’s intelligence service – the ISI – is the single largest impediment to stability in the […]

Posted by Looking to Afghanistan’s future | David Rohde | Report as abusive

I don’t see why everyone is ignoring the very important factor of education. You cannot have peace by changing political regimes or taking away weapons. The only way is to make people realize that they are not right in their intolerant ways.

Posted by SteveWorks | Report as abusive

Last night when Fu Bo appeared at the venue next, “Legal Evening News” reporter noted that is different from the previous game in his dress, a black suit, a dark grey cashmere scarf, this has been a sportswear based coach, in such a way that the game for his meaning something different

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