The Bush administration is pressing the new civilian government in Islamabad to bring Pakistan’s primary spy service under civilian control. Washington has been increasingly frustrated over what it believes to be collusion between at least some elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, and Islamic militants.
The New York Times quoted U.S. officials as saying last week that American intelligence agencies claim to have evidence from intercepted communications that ISI operatives may have helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s Embassy in Kabul. But Pakistani officials say U.S. authorities have yet to offer them specific evidence to support the allegation.
Pakistani Media Perspective
Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid says he believes the Americans have known for “quite some time” – as has NATO – that the Afghan Taliban have received support from some elements in Pakistan. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Rashid says these “elements” probably include religious parties, religious extremist groups, as well as operatives in the ISI. Mr. Rashid is the author of the recently published book, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. He says the recent allegations have made clear that among the three terrorist elements – the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and al-Qaida – Pakistan only had an interest in supporting the Afghan Taliban. But he agrees with experts who contend the three groups cannot be considered separately, adding that if Pakistan supports one of them, it is probably supporting all of them.
Ahmed Rashid says he has no idea whether that support could extend to ISI involvement in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. But, he notes the Indians and the Afghans have made the “same accusations.” Rashid says there is “no doubt” that very sophisticated acts of terrorism in Kabul have been carried out by the Taliban ally, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is reported to be based in Pakistan. And the evidence cited in The New York Times “clearly seems to be based on telephone transcripts between the militants who attacked the embassy and Haqqani’s network inside Pakistan.” But whether such telephone contacts would extend to the ISI operatives, Rashid says, “the Americans have not disclosed the details of what they actually know.”
Afghan Media Perspective
Afghanistan has long accused the Pakistani spy agency of backing the Taliban. And in keeping with that assertion, Afghan journalist and historian Nabi Misdaq notes Afghan authorities insist the bombing could not have been carried out without Pakistan’s support. Misdaq says Afghans think the resistance is being “propped up by Pakistan, especially in the border regions.” He adds that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was very angry, saying that if the terrorist cells are not cleared within Pakistan, then “there will be no security and no peace in Afghanistan or in the region.”
Furthermore, Nabi Misdaq says Pakistan’s ISI has earned a poor reputation among many Afghans, who think they are pursuing a “two-faced policy.” He says on the one hand, the ISI “gives the impression” to both Kabul and Washington that “they are their friends.” But on the other hand, Misdaq says the ISI – or at least some elements of it – appears to be propping up extremists. As evidence, he notes that last week “a high official in the CIA paid a secret visit to Pakistan to discuss these issues.”
Indian Media Perspective
Indian journalist Jehangir Pocha in New Delhi, editor of Business World magazine, says recent developments involving Pakistani intelligence come as “no surprise” to people in India. Pocha says the Indian media haven’t devoted much attention to the subject recently because, he says, it is “accepted wisdom” in India that the ISI is “in cahoots with extremist elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He says Indian intelligence agencies are on “high alert” because they believe the trend is going to continue. Furthermore, Jehangir Pocha says Indian intelligence agencies “believe that [President Pervez] Musharraf is no longer in control” of the ISI. Indeed, the Pakistani President’s political future is currently uncertain. On Thursday, Pakistan’s ruling coalition called it “imperative” that it pursue impeachment proceedings against Mr. Musharraf. Whether the coalition can muster the necessary votes to do that is still unclear.
In the face of what has been a slowly warming relationship between India and Pakistan, Pocha says India has been reluctant to strongly criticize its neighbor. But he suggests that may be changing as the Indian government “has decided it is going to stop being held hostage by Pakistan” and stop allowing Islamabad to “determine its [India’s] foreign policy.” However, when it comes to how that will be done, he says there is some “confusion on that issue.”
Confusion All Around
Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid says Washington also seems to be perplexed about what to do now. He says the Bush administration made a “big mistake” in giving Pakistan’s military regime under President Musharraf “carte blanche” to combat terrorism as it saw fit. Rashid says Washington seemed only interested in “chasing al-Qaida.” And with only a few months left in office, he says the Bush Administration finds itself in a “very difficult position.”
Rashid sees it as a good sign that that there is sentiment in the U.S. Congress for tripling non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years. Some senators want to make funding of the proposed aid package contingent on Islamabad’s performance in fighting terrorism. Ahmed Rashid says this help may be “too little, too late,’ and that it would have “meant a great deal to Pakistan’s civilian administration” to have that support from Washington six months earlier.