Thanks to the Assange/Manning combine, many of our civil and military stalwarts, always so eager to speak their hearts out to any Yank who crossed their path, now have a red face. Better still, if some of us were under the illusion that we were America’s close allies and it was desperately counting on us to take its chestnuts out of the Afghan fire, the WikiLeaks disclosures should have brought them down to earth. And just in case any of them were still grappling at some strategic straws, after the latest leak that the ISI was now on the US’s list of ‘terrorist organisations’, they should at least take a walk. For the ISI, it could not have been earth shaking.
Assuming that the late Soviet Union in its heyday was also in the business of making these lists, the CIA and the MI6 must have been on top of the ladder. The ISI, too, might have joined this illustrious panel by the early 1980s. When the US arrogated to itself the sole right for such awards, the ISI, an ally till late, was, in the first batch, considered worthy of this honour. The charge was our support to the Kashmiri resistance. The real reasons were, of course, different. Demise of the ‘evil empire’ was one, but it was not decisive. Having worked with some of the best of its ilk during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the ISI’s wherewithal was considered a threat to the New World Order: A genuine concern since, right at its inception, the agency had the cheek to challenge it. During the 1990-91 Gulf Crisis, it pointed out that the American security establishment was ‘sexing-up’ the combat potential of Iraqi Republican Guards (WMD, anyone!). Something more serious must have happened this time around, since the label has stuck.
I do not know what happened, or what is the exact nature of the relationship the ISI has with the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani network. I do believe, however, that keeping them and others who are resisting the US-led occupation in good shape is in our interest. While belabouring the legitimacy of a national resistance movement or pronouncing judgement on the Taliban world view can go on forever, events on ground have their own dynamics. But for an effective struggle, the occupation forces in Afghanistan might be tempted to overstay their welcome, with by now the obvious fallout on Pakistan. More importantly, the resistors are our neighbours and the occupiers belong to distant lands. Thus, it is quite possible that for being sympathetic to these ‘freedom fighters’, the ISI has earned the ire of the still surviving superpower. There may be yet another reason.
For quite some time now, the ISI has been exposing rogue groups operating in Pakistan. Granted, they are an effective tool of counterinsurgency. Posturing as insurgents, they are favourably placed to gain useful information and carry out acts that alienate genuine rebels from the populace. Those familiar with the business have, of course, known about this phenomenon. Thanks again to WikiLeaks, we all know that thousands of Afghans were trained and launched by the CIA on both sides of the AfPak border as “counter-terrorism pursuit teams”. The best news is still to come.
Now that it is no longer possible to keep a gloss over Pakistan-US relations, it is easier, though a bit uncomfortable, to make a clean breast on a number of issues: The CIA’s role in our country; the futility of coercing Pakistan on matters it cannot deliver; and, most importantly, the next steps in Afghanistan. Even the true purpose of American aid — less carrot and more stick — can be said and done with.
The rest of us, too, get yet another chance to mull over the true nature of ‘terrorism’. It is a technique of war and, therefore, an instrument of policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2011.
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