War against ISI   (08 Aug 2008)

For the first time, Pakistan’s spy agency ISI stands exposed internationally as the US has blamed it for masterminding the Kabul bomb blast at the Indian embassy last month. Closely following the discovery of fresh evidence linking ISI to Taliban, the Kabul bomb blast at Indian embassy convinced the US of ISI’s agenda of terrorism.

The Pakistani establishment in response has promised to act against ISI, but I have my doubts about it. No democratic government in Pakistan has ever been able to wield any control over ISI. Within Pakistan, many believe that ISI is no longer a government organization; it is rather a mafia run by the army officers and the old guard of the agency, who are involved in criminal activities like abduction, extortion, drug-trafficking, printing of fake currency and terrorism.

It is open secret that the ISI has strong links with most terrorist outfits active in South Asia. Half of ISI’s budgetary allocation by the Pakistan government is stolen by people within the agency. In any case, this funding has no accountability; senior ISI officials listen only to the army chief and nobody else. They have only one boss and it’s not their Prime Minister. Not so long ago, Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had admitted as much and expressed her sheer helplessness in controlling both ISI and the army, during a private conversation with her Indian counterpart, Rajiv Gandhi, on the sidelines of the 1988 Saarc summit in Islamabad.

Pakistani current Prime Minister Mr. Gilani has assured the US of his resolve to curb ISI’s activities, but this will turn out to be a false promise. In my view, ISI can only be controlled if the US mounts enough pressure on the military establishment of Pakistan. The supply of state funds to the agency needs to be curtailed. The US must also take advantage of its position to launch a competent counter-intelligence operation that will keep an eye on the functioning of ISI officials and operatives.

Rajeev Shukla