The invisible soldiers of Islam

We have been too depressed to notice a piece of good news. Our ISI was ranked the world’s top intelligence agency.


Lt-gen R Asad Durrani August 26, 2010

Lately, we have been too depressed to notice a piece of real good news. Our very own ISI has been ranked the world’s top intelligence agency. And just in case one had never heard of the “smashing lists website”, a look at it would be worth its while. The ratings are done professionally. That the ISI carries out its primary mission — forewarn external threats and counter covert operations  — reasonably well, must have counted, but “no double agents or defectors, no one ever caught on camera, and all of this on a modest budget”, seem to have clinched us the gold medal.

Only the other day the agency was complimented, even though back-handedly, to have helped a rag-tag militia in Afghanistan, frustrate the world’s mightiest military alliance, Nato. Calls for a double celebration, I suppose!

After the Soviets left Afghanistan, the US, our partner during the occupation, had a change of heart. Since we had “misused” our frontline status to upgrade our nukes, we had to be punished for this impertinence. Invoking Pressler (Amendment) should normally have sufficed; except for a problem. The ISI having played the lead role during the Afghan resistance — helped no doubt from some of the best in the business — was now raring to join the big league. An efficient secret service of suspect loyalty can become a pain in the neck. When General Brent Scowcroft, a former US national security adviser, publicly acknowledged that the ISI’s assessment of Iraqi forces in Kuwait was better than theirs, it was time for the upstart to be cut to size.

Before it is killed, a dog is given a bad name, and the ISI was hence labelled a rogue organisation. In Afghanistan it was no longer helping a national resistance but “building-up a client regime”; if some religious literature found its way to the newly independent Central Asian Republics, it must be the ISI “exporting regressive ideologies”; and its support to the uprising in Indian-held Kashmir was but “state-sponsored terrorism”. And the baggage that the ISI carried because of its involvement in domestic politics — an upshot of the military’s role in Pakistan — made all this easier for
our detractors.

If the outfit withstood the onslaught and is again lauded as the best of its kind, it must have done something good. However, there is another reason that the ISI must be wooed, once more: it is America’s best bet to clinch a face-saving deal in Afghanistan. I have no idea what our super spooks have done to earn this recognition, but if there was any reality in the perception that the ISI has kept the Taliban in good shape against all odds, then at least in my reckoning it has done us all a big service. Without an effective resistance, the occupation of Afghanistan is not likely to be vacated. And unless that happened, our western borders would remain on the boil.

Intelligence agencies are not a panacea for all ills. They can at best ward off immediate threats and provide space for other organs of the state to find long-term remedies. Admittedly, it is the harder part and ours counts amongst the softer states. It would rather abdicate its duty to the ISI and then call it “a state within a state”, or do worse: bring an external intelligence agency under command of the interior ministry and send its spymaster abroad to face criminal charges.

How to deal with this “mother of all threats” is a different matter. For now, the ISI has other battles at hand, and would do well fighting them one at a time.

Lt-Gen(r) Asad Durrani

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2010.

COMMENTS (105)

Hasan | 10 years ago | Reply Something for the general to ponder upon;
Cricket meets its match: history of fixing the product of a corrupt society It is only natural that cricketers - or some of them at least - should reflect the society from which they come. And Pakistan is, and has been almost throughout its existence, riddled with corruption. ... The military takes most of the country's wealth, leaving far too little money to fund civilian society: a euphemism for saying the state does not provide its people with schools and hospitals or any real social care. In his book Pakistan - Eye of the Storm, the former BBC correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones wrote: "Between 1947 and 1959 up to 73 per cent of Pakistan's total government spending was devoted to defence. The average for the period was 60 per cent." And nothing had changed by the last time England toured Pakistan at the end of 2005. The British High Commission then estimated that Pakistan's military - including the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence - took 70 per cent of government spending for itself.
Link: Cricket meets its match: history of fixing the product of a corrupt society
Faizullah Jan | 10 years ago | Reply I am amazed, but certainly not surprised, at Mr. Asad Durrani's views about ISI. I don't see who awards the ISI or not, but I see the ground reality in my motherland. The myopic ISI has disrupted my cultural matrix, turning naive Pakhtuns into cut-throats. The social fabric in Pakistan is in tatters because of the ISI's doings in Afghanistan, India and inside Pakistan. Mr. Durrani says that an intelligence agency's role is to thwart a threat to the country, but the ISI has disintegrated the whole society by militarizing it in its imperial pursuits in Afghanistan.
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