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

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.