By Zahid Malik
After my four hour long informal interaction with Admiral Mike Mullen, the most powerful man in uniform and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the multi-barrel gun directed at Afghanistan and Pakistan, at the residence of US Ambassador on the rainy evening of April 6, 2009, I had in my comments mentioned that now the ISI was the immediate target of the US Establishment. This was no “breaking news” at all as everyone who keeps an eye on the ongoing war on terror knew well that US was hell-bent on (i) getting the Pakistan Army sucked in the domestic turmoil in Swat, FATA and beyond Waziristan, and (ii) reining in what the US calls “rogue elements” in the ISI.
There are confirmed reports that to achieve its objectives the CIA hired the services of at least a dozen Afghan warlords inside Afghanistan and provided through them arms and finances to militants in FATA and Swat to carry out murders and devastations in the country. It was like a double-edged sword not only to get the Army launch attacks against Taliban on Pakistani side of the border but also to give a message to the ISI that the CIA can use the Pakistani Taliban against their own security forces. It was in this background that after a long, long tolerance the prime intelligence agency of the country ultimately confronted the CIA Director Leon E. Panetta with some highly classified and irrefutable evidence. Panetta was startled when DG, ISI General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, a no-nonsense General, placed the facts before him in Islamabad on November 20, 2009. The “deliberate leaks” after the meeting of the spy chiefs of the two countries, spoke of the mind of the ISI and the armed forces of Pakistan. General Pasha had earlier conveyed the facts about the interference of CIA in acts of terrorism in Pakistan to the Government but on realizing that either the message was not strongly conveyed to the Americans or it had no desired impact on them, finally put his foot down and expressed serious concerns over the CIA’s crude interference in the country’s internal matters. The proof about instances of covert US support to some hardened militant outfits and terrorist activities they carried out over the past few weeks and months, were presented to Panetta. It was indeed a startling revelation for the top US spy and a bold manoeuvre of Pakistan Army. General Pasha’s tactical move baffled Panetta when he was told in categorical terms that Pakistan had incriminating evidence about the CIA officials’ involvement in providing assistance to perpetrators of some terrorist activities within Pakistan, which had negative impact on Pakistan’s efforts towards war on terror and that the CIA must shun such activities. The clarity with which the information was conveyed sent a loud message to Capitol Hills that if it wanted Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror, it must give up playing double games. It is a known fact that the Indian intelligence agency RAW is operating in Afghanistan with the active backing of CIA and not only is it involved in acts of terrorism in the NWFP but also in Balochistan. The Indians cannot undertake such wide-scale activities in this region without the tacit approval and backing of the CIA. The question arises how come India has developed a huge presence in Kabul.
How Maulvi Fazlullah and the banned TTP leaders including Hakeemullah Mehsud reached Afghanistan without the knowledge of Americans? There are reports that TTP leaders were provided satellite phones operated by a Gulf based Western company and they talked freely to BBC and other media organizations without any fear of being detected and targeted by drones or missiles. Then there are also credible reports that a helicopter flew from Afghanistan before 17th October, when operation Rah-e-Nejat in South Waziristan was launched, and evacuated the top leadership of the TTP from Waziristan and shifted to Afghanistan. The Americans also vacated some of the crucial posts along the border with South Waziristan in an apparent bid to provide safe passage to the fleeing Pakistani Taliban. The terrorists arrested here in Pakistan during the operation have also told their investigators about their links with the US and Indian agencies. There is a credible information that full logistic and auxiliary support is still being provided to anti-Pakistan Taliban from Nuristan Province and several top officials from Afghan and Indian intelligence networks were seen active in the process.
So, it is CIA agenda to get Pak Army and now Air Force also, engaged in domestic affairs and dismantle the much dreaded ISI so that when Pakistan became spineless its nuclear assets could be targeted in one way or the other. It all started as early as the present Government took over and on many occasions during this period Washington has been publicly blaming ISI for its links with some of the Taliban leaders including the Haqqani group. During a meeting with Prime Minister Gilani in Washington in August 2008, Director CIA presented him with a charge sheet on Pakistani intelligence agencies for their alleged involvement in Jihadi activities. In order to justify their interference in Balochistan, the CIA raised the bogey of presence of Taliban Shura in or around Quetta.
Now what made the whole scenario very grim is the fact that the Government appears to have succumbed to American pressure to cut the ISI to size and make it a carpet lion. It was in this backdrop that a notification was issued in mysterious circumstances placing the ISI under Interior Ministry, which was later withdrawn when the move backfired. It is a strange and baffling coincidence that during the two stints of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto too a perception developed about undermining the strength of the ISI. For instance, on instructions of the BB Government Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, the then DG ISI posted out 125 officers of the Agency from Major General to Colonel ranks to other destinations because they were believed to be soft in handling Taliban and in the eyes of US they were “rogue elements”. From my point of view, it was a setback to ISI. Now there is a strong perception that the incumbent leadership has not also been presenting the serious concerns of Pakistan to the Americans in true perspective and is just raising the issues in a casual manner. Perhaps that was the reason that the Army leadership had to make unusual public remarks in a press release, issued by the ISPR after the Corps Commanders meeting in October 2009, expressing serious concern over the Kerry-Lugar Bill saying that certain of its clauses were intrusive and against the national interests and were thus unacceptable. It is all the more important that Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar virtually snubbed the Pakistan Army by accusing it of crossing the red lines while the fact remains that he himself crossed the limits.
I have reasons to believe that all this and CIA’s brute as well as crude interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs has not gone well with the Establishment and infuriated the Pakistan Army. If the Americans did not stop these nonsensical activities in Pakistan, the Army may say NO to cooperation with the US. I am quite sure that if the Army says NO then consequently the whole nation will be at its back. It was owing to this reason that COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, while talking to newsmen on the occasion of rolling out of first JF-17 Thunder Aircraft at Kamra on November 24, declared that the US would have to take Pakistan into confidence and taking into consideration the armed forces know-how to defend the country.
I personally endorse the changing mood of the Army and the ISI to preserve the dignity and honour of the country and its institutions and I wish the civilian Government also had the resolve to do this.
Courtesy: Pakistan Observer, 7th December 2009