Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Why now? Until this week, the ISI was an acronym for Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, that was little known outside of South Asia. Now it’s all over the American media as the organisation accused of secretly helping Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the country it works for is a crucial ally in the U.S. battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The New York Times led the charge by reporting that the CIA had confronted Pakistan over what it called deepening ties between members of the ISI and militant groups responsible for a surge in violence in Afghanistan. It followed it up with a story quoting U.S. government officials blaming the ISI for an attack last month on the Indian embassy in Kabul. The Washington Post and TIME, amongst others, ran similar stories.
Whenever you see a deluge of stories in the media quoting government or intelligence officials, it’s always worth asking why those unnamed officials have chosen this particular moment to speak out. The accusations against the ISI — denied by Pakistan — are not new.
India has complained for years about the role of the ISI in supporting the insurgency in Kashmir. It threatened to go to war in 2001/2002 over a December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that it blamed on militants backed by the ISI, a charge denied by Pakistan. The debate within India at the time was very similar to the one you can find today in the U.S. media — how much do the ruling authorities in Pakistan control the ISI, and to what extent is it a monolithic disciplined organisation, and to what extent does it have renegade members who might follow their own agenda?