The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan, operationally responsible for gathering, processing, and analysing national security information from around the world. It was created in 1948 following the 1947-48 Pakistan-India Kashmir war which raised the requirement for better coordination in intelligence gathering, sharing, and coordination between the army, air force, navy, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Military Intelligence (MI). Although the ISI was structured to collect information on its external enemies and also counter their machinations against Pakistan, during the rule of General Ayub Khan, keeping an eye on the politicians to secure his regime was introduced. Subsequent governments considered discontinuing this aspect from the directory of duties of the ISI but for their own personal agendas, they desisted.
The ISI has had its fair share of successes and failures but it came on its own and began being recognised as a highly effective and world class intelligence organisation during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Working in tandem with the US premier intelligence agency, the CIA and ISI recruited, trained, armed and launched volunteers from all over the world, known as Afghan Mujahedeen to defeat the Red Army and force it to withdraw from Afghanistan. It was a major international operation in which recruits, arms, funds and jihadist literature were flowing in Pakistan’s tribal regions. The birth of the Al-Qaeda and later the Taliban took place in the era. Unfortunately, the CIA departed directly after the Soviet withdrawal, leaving the still armed jihadists looking for fresh targets. Afghanistan, in the aftermath became a theatre of war for supremacy by different warlords, wielding private militias. Bulk of the foreign fighters, who had voluntarily joined the jihad in Afghanistan, returned to their countries of origin but quite a few, who had either burnt their boats or were attracted by the power and force they now brandished, joined Osama bin Laden led Al-Qaeda, which now had sinister designs. If the CIA/ISI had de-indoctrinated the Mujahedeen and disarmed them, the world would have been a safer place.
Left to fend for itself, the ISI battle hardened and more experienced in covert warfare, played favourites with some of the jihadists, especially the Taliban to make Pakistan more secure but it eventually backfired when 9/11 occurred.
Since 2007, when terror attacks started targeting Pakistan, the ISI has worked round the clock to unearth terror groups, their financiers, supporters and sympathisers
Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Pakistan became an ally of the US-led coalition against terror and supported the invasion of Afghanistan, when the Taliban refused to handover Osama bin Laden, who had taken the credit for 9/11 and previous attacks.
Forced to re-adapt to meet the threat of terror attacks, ISI played an important role in this era. Working along with the CIA, ISI enabled the capture or elimination of various terrorists. In 1995, ISI had helped in the capture of Ramzi Yousef, one of the planners of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. The level of cooperation continued as post 9/11 terror leaders of the ilk of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Sheikh Omar Saeed – accused of assassinating Daniel Pearl, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the principle architect of the 9/11 attacks as well as other significant terrorist attacks, Abu FarajFarj al-Liby, Maulvi Omar. Senior aide to Baitullah Mehsud and Taliban’s deputy commander – Abdul Ghani Baradar among about 600 others were apprehended.
Since 2007, when terror attacks started targeting Pakistan, ISI is working round the clock to successfully unearth and destroy the networks, supporters, financiers and sympathisers of terrorist groups. The process continues in shape of operation Rad-ul-Fassad and has expanded its range to almost all parts of the country. In the bargain, ISI installations and operatives have been assailed by the very terrorists, it has been tracking. The sad part is that ISI is blamed for all the ills from abroad and most unfortunately from some elements within the country as well. This whole propaganda campaign is led by India along with Afghanistan and the US who find a convenient scapegoat to blame.
RAW collaborates with the Afghan intelligence agency NDS to manage terrorism in Pakistan through Baloch Sub-Nationalists and also through terrorist outfits like ISIS. Commander Kulbhoshan Jadhav is a prime example. Proofs of multiple attacks from Afghan soil were also shared with Afghan and US authorities present there.
On the all-important intelligence front, these efforts are being handled by ISI. The level and quantum of the threat scenario is too gigantic to be dealt by one agency and requires miraculous performance to tackle and defeat such multi-pronged threats.
However, the ISI does it for Pakistan single handedly and that is the only reason that the institution is in the eye of storm, both abroad and domestically. Our enemies must know that Pakistani nation stands united with its armed forces, ISI and other institutions in combating security threats and each enjoys mutual confidence of the other despite the machinations of detractors.
The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China
Published in Daily Times, January 13th 2018.