News / Asia

US Empowered Pakistan Spy Agency

U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Sept. 22, 2011 (file photo).
U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Sept. 22, 2011 (file photo).
Gary Thomas

Adm. Mike Mullen set off a firestorm on September 22 when he bluntly accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the ISI, of backing militants’ attacks on U.S. facilities in Afghanistan.

In a Congressional testimony that the White House has since refused to endorse, the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff alleged ISI agents have been using militants as proxies to maintain regional influence.

"In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan jeopardizes ... the prospect of our strategic partnership," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

But the U.S. bears some responsibility for putting the ISI directorate in its current position of prominence.

The ISI first used Islamic militants to foster policy goals in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980's war against Soviet occupation, and did so with active assistance from the CIA. Professor Owen Sirrs of the University of Montana, who is researching a new book on the ISI, says the CIA let the ISI decide how huge amounts of cash, weapons and other aid would be allocated among the Afghan anti-Soviet fighting groups.

"We acknowledged that ISI was going to be the filter between us and the Afghan mujahedin against the Soviets," he says. "That gave ISI tremendous power because then they could essentially decide who was going to be the future kings of Afghanistan, the future leadership of Afghanistan. ISI played a kingmaker role, and we essentially allowed this to happen.”

Sirrs says the ISI favored Islamist radicals like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani with the most funds and weapons, building ties that still endure and now bedevil the Washington-Islamabad relationship. The U.S. blames the Haqqani network, now a Taliban ally, for many of the attacks on U.S. and allied facilities in Afghanistan.

A complex history
The ISI was founded in 1948 by a British army officer just after the partition of the Indian subcontinent into Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India. It was then, as it is now, one of several competing Pakistani intelligence agencies, and it was charged with countering Indian infiltration into the Pakistani army.

But the ISI’s power gradually grew. Intermittent civilian governments sought to turn it to their own purposes, such as spying on political opponents. Although officially answerable to the prime minister, however, the ISI remains firmly under control of the military, which saw it as tool to check what it considered to be incompetent civilian rule. Late prime minister Benazir Bhutto famously called the ISI a “state within a state,” underscoring the government’s inability to control the agency’s power.

Sirrs says it was a former military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, who started using the ISI as a tool of covert action. General Zia got huge sums of money for the anti-Soviet effort, some of which, he says, ISI officers skimmed. But it was contact with radical Islamists that rubbed off on ISI officers.

"They had a shared world view of 'hey, we defeated a superpower’ - the Soviet Union -  ‘this just shows the power of our ideology, the power of our faith, and we can do great things with it,' " he says. "And I think this definitely had an impact on a whole generation of ISI officers, some of whom you heard about later on who were involved with backing the Taliban."

Analysts widely agree that the ISI had a hand in creating and supporting the Taliban as it came to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Mullen’s comments underscore how Western intelligence agencies believe ties between the ISI and the Taliban - even though it is now an insurgency instead of a government - remain strong.

Pakistan, however, repeatedly denies any such linkage.

"The allegations betray confusion and policy disarray within the U.S. establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan," said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in response to Mullen's testimony. "We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war [in Afghanistan]."

Professor Christine Fair of Georgetown University, who has long studied Pakistani security and political affairs, says the ISI’s relationships with the Taliban and allied groups do exist, but are complex.

"There’s a constellation of Taliban actors, basically overlapping networks that have ties with [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar, Haqqani, all of which is sort of on a tactical basis when it suits them," she says. "They all have different sort of relationships with what reconciliation means, and they all have different relationships with the ISI. So I think we have really been erroneous in not understanding the degree to which the Taliban have changed in the last 10 years. They’ve changed but our thinking has not.”

Undermining reconciliation
Sirrs says the ISI keeps a sharp eye on any potential negotiations that might bring about political reconciliation in Afghanistan, because it wants to control the outcome.

"If the Afghan Taliban is at all interested in negotiating with the United States or the Afghan government, it’s the Pakistani ISI saying 'we are the ones who dictate your final interests, and if you negotiate any agreement that we don’t buy into, we - ISI, the Pakistani army - we’re going to pull you back.'"

Analysts say that 63 years after its creation, the ISI and the Pakistani security establishment remains obsessed with India and its expanding political and economic influence in the region, including in Afghanistan.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs