On July 12, 2012, ex-ISI chief General (retd) Asad Durrani appeared on PTV and expressed his views in his characteristic reductive manner. Durrani cultivates gruffness as his trademark. In this, he is like a predecessor of his, General Mahmood Ahmad: the US is here in the region to stay to get to the oil and gas bonanza of Central Asia; and Pakistan has to deal with this as a threat to its security.
While Durrani delivered his rough wisdom, another retired spy boss, Hamid Gul, was in the Long March of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, riding in an ego-boosting Land Cruiser, seeing cash worth lakhs of rupees being handed around on the way.
Hamid Gul has told the international press that he had sent his sons to be trained with the Haqqanis in the tribal areas. Barnett R Rubin in his book The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From Buffer State to Failed State (Yale University Press, 1995) wrote that, in 1988-89, the 519-strong Afghan shura in Peshawar received 25,000 dollars per member as bribe from the Saudi intelligence agency, which spent 26 million dollars per week during the Peshawar session. The ‘deal’ was facilitated, according to Rubin, by Hamid Gul.
That year, Afghanistan’s ruler, President Najibullah, defeated the ISI-nurtured mujahideen in Jalalabad. Hamid Gul says he did not plan the Jalalabad operation, but an ISI officer, Brigadier S A Tirmizi, in his book Profiles of Intelligence (1997) stated that he had.
Like Durrani, Hamid Gul has been frequently clueless but speaks like a prophet on Pakistan’s security. He thought Aimal Kasi, who was executed for killing CIA agents in the US, was called a CIA agent by him. He had to admit that his plan to put together the IJI in 1990 to prevent the PPP from coming to power was wrong.
Our ISI geniuses were not only clueless; what is worse, they were usually ‘reverse-indoctrinated’. Hamid Gul never believed that Osama bin Laden had done 9/11; he was convinced that the Jews had done it.
Another ISI chief, General Mahmood Ahmad, was simply cowed by the charisma of Mullah Umar. Cathy Gannon in her book ‘I’ is for Infidel: from Holy War to Holy Terror, 18 Years inside Afghanistan (Public Affairs, 2005) tells the story. ISI boss Mahmood Ahmad was in Washington when Osama struck on 9/11. General Musharraf sent him to Mullah Umar to tell him to avoid being invaded by the US and surrender Osama.
She writes: “The general was a religious zealot very much like Mullah Umar … He told Mullah Umar not to give up bin Laden. He visited Kandahar many times, each time giving Mullah Umar information about the likely next move by the US”. (p.93). He met Jalaluddin Haqqani too, the warlord of Khost where Osama bin Laden had his training camps and warned him against surrendering him. Haqqani was told in Rawalpindi to hold out against the Americans and that “he had friends across the border” (p.94).
(One State Department official told this writer in 2006 that Mahmood in Washington tended to lose his cool. This was confirmed by Pakistani diplomats who had to listen to his angry Islamic harangues in Islamabad. Finally, when Musharraf fired him, his tendency to throw tantrums was mentioned in the press.)
Today’s big question is: is the ISI now sincere in what it says it is doing against terrorism? Did the terrorists return the loyalty the ISI felt towards them? “Musharraf had sent his soldiers into South Waziristan, where nearly 200 were killed trying to flush out suspected terrorists. His intelligence agency protected men who had kidnapped international UN workers” (p.184).
Ex-foreign secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan in his brilliant book Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012) says the ISI got ideologically involved with the terrorists and asserted that General Mahmood Ahmad “found it difficult to argue with a man of faith” (p.91).
Shuja Nawaz in his classic study Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars within (Oxford University Press 2008) says General Mahmood never intended to be loyal to Pakistan as he met Mullah Umar. He told the author: “I am a Muslim. Why would I go against another Muslim? US has strategic designs in the region and that includes stopping the religious revolution from spreading” (p.543).
Benazir in a revised edition of her autobiography, Daughter of the East (Simon & Schuster 2009), writes: “In February 1989, Osama bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia but in May he was recalled to Pakistan when I asserted authority over the ISI. Bin Laden was asked by the ISI, with whom he had long and close relations, to help overthrow the democratic government.”
Benazir’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has repeated the charge she had made in her letter to Musharraf before she landed in Pakistan in 2007: that the ISI got her killed through al Qaeda.
The US is overtly scared of international terrorism making a home in a state possessed of nuclear weapons. Pakistan says its nukes are safe and are meant to keep India at bay. But the ISI’s interface with the terrorists fills the world with doubts, which results in a negative fallout for Pakistan’s economy.
Pakistan’s stock is low at the global level. Investments are not coming in and domestic capital is fleeing. Pakistan counters that by blaming terrorism and a bad law-and-order situation — signifying absence of the writ of the state — on India and the US who are supposed to be paying the Taliban to kill innocent Pakistanis. No one in the world believes that.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2012.