Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ISI WITHIN ISI: EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

B. Raman


On July 26,2008, the Pakistan Government placed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) under the direct control of the Interior Division.

2.A notification issued before the departure of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani for Washington for talks with President George Bush,said: “In terms of Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973, the Prime Minister has approved the placement of the Intelligence Bureau and the Inter-Services Intelligence under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division with immediate effect.”

3.de jure, the ISI and the IB were working y under the Prime Minister, while the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was being overseen by the Interior Minister, but de facto, they were reporting to President Pervez Musharraf till the elected Government under Gilani came to office in the last week of March,2008.

4. Since then, the Gilani Government was under pressure from the US to act against what had come to be known as “the ISI within the ISI”----- that is, a group of military officers in the ISI who were allegedly helping the Taliban in Afghanistan and the anti-India jihadi terrorist organizations.

5. In December,2003, Musharraf escaped two attempts to assassinate him at Rawalpindi allegedly mounted by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements with the complicity of some junior officers of the Army and the Air Force. The failure of the ISI to detect this conspiracy led to fears that there are elements in the ISI, which are opposed to co-operation with the US even against Al Qaeda.

6.Dr.Aamir Liaqat Hussain, the then Minister of State for Religious Affairs, gave expression to these fears in an interview to the "Daily Times" of Lahore on May 5, 2005. He warned that Musharraf had a lot of enemies ‘within’ who could make an attempt on his life again at any time. He said that there were certain elements within the forces who could attack the General. He added: “No common people could attack President Musharraf, but certainly there are elements in the forces who can launch yet another attack against him. There is an ISI within the ISI, which is more powerful than the original and still orchestrating many eventualities in the country.” He added that he feared a threat to his own life because he supported Musharraf's call for an enlightened and moderate Islam and had been given the task of preparing the texts of sermons advocating enlightened and moderate Islam to be used at all mosques of the Armed Forces.

7. Fears that this “ISI within the ISI” had become even stronger since then increased after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in the last week of December,2007. Many police officers suspected that it had got her killed with the help of Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but Baitullah has strongly denied that he had any role in her assassination.

8. According to Pakistani Police sources, they had strong reasons to suspect that this “ISI within the ISI” had organized the unsuccessful attempt to have President Hamid Karzai assassinated in Kabul in the last week of April,2008, and to have the Indian Embassy in Kabul blown up in July,2008.

9. While there has been talk of this ‘ISI within the ISI” since May,2005, nobody has so far been able to identify the officers constituting it. Senior Pakistani Army officers deny its existence and describe the allegations of Dr.Aamir Liaqat Hussain as a figment of his fertile imagination.

10. The transfer of the ISI and the IB to the Interior Ministry was seen by senior Army officers as an attempt by Asif Zardari to make Rehman Malik, his close confidante, who is designated as the Adviser to the Interior Ministry with the status of a Cabinet Minister, the Czar of all intelligence agencies directly reporting to him.

11. The proposed transfer met with a storm of protests from the ISI itself and from the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Army due to the following reasons:

Senior Army officers were outraged that the Director-General of the ISI, who is a Lt.Gen, should be asked to work under Malik, a retired police officer, who held a post equivalent to the rank of a Major-General when he was in service.

All the papers regarding Pakistan’s clandestine procurement of nuclear and missile technologies from China and missile technology from North Korea are in the ISI. The interrogation of A.Q.Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, in 2004 under US pressure was done by Lt.Gen.Ehsan-ul-Haq, the former DG of the ISI. All the papers relating to L’Affaire A.Q.Khan are in the ISI. In the wake of the recent allegations by A.Q.Khan about Musharraf’s prior knowledge and approval of his dealings with North Korea, the attempt to remove the ISI from the control of the Army was viewed by Musharraf and other senior Army officers as an attempt by the US to get access to these papers through Malik.

Similarly, the proposed transfer of the ISI, which is responsible for covert operations against India and Afghanistan, was viewed by them as an attempt by the US to have access to details of these operations.

12. Following these protests, the Government reversed the notification within 24 hours and restored the status quo ante. The Government issued another notification which said that the earlier notification had been ‘misunderstood’ and that the ISI would “continue to function under the Prime Minister”.“The previous notification only “re-emphasised the need for more coordination between Ministry of Interior and the ISI in relation to the war on terror and internal security.” It said a detailed notification would be issued later to clarify the situation.

13. Annexed is an updated version of article on the ISI, which I had written for an Italian journal in the last week of January,2008. (30-7-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretriat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director,Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com

ANNEXURE

THE INTER-SERVICES INTELLIGENCE OF PAKISTAN

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) of undivided India, which was created by the British colonial rulers, to collect domestic political intelligence was largely a police organization. It had no responsibility for the collection of foreign intelligence.

At the time of the partition of India in 1947, its personnel, assets and records were divided between India and Pakistan. Most of the Muslim police officers serving in the IB of undivided India chose to join the IB of Pakistan. Others stayed behind in the IB of India.

The Government of independent India placed its IB under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs and expanded its charter to make it responsible for the collection of internal as well as foreign intelligence. This position continued till September 21,1968, when the Government of India bifurcated the IB and converted its foreign intelligence division into an independent organization called the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW). The R&AW was placed directly under the Prime Minister and was made part of the Cabinet Secretariat, which functions under the Prime Minister.

Like the IB, the R&AW too was initially a largely police organization with a small number of military officers taken on deputation to handle military intelligence. Since then, the predominance of police officers has been reduced and more officers unconnected with the police have been inducted into the R&AW. It is a largely civilian organization with a small number of military officers.

The evolution in Pakistan took a different path. The IB of Pakistan, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior, was initially a largely police organization and was given the responsibility for the collection of internal and external intelligence. However, following complaints from the Army about the poor performance of the IB and its police officers during the first Indo-Pakistan war of 1947-48 over Kashmir, the Government of Pakistan created a new organization called the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and made it responsible for the collection of foreign intelligence.

The ISI was placed under the control of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and its personnel were taken from the three wings of the armed forces. It became a military-dominated intelligence agency.

Initially, the ISI had no responsibility for the collection of internal intelligence, which continued to be collected by the police officers of the IB. This position started changing after the Army started meddling in politics in the late 1950s. Field Marshal Ayub Khan ( President during 1958-69), who distrusted the police officers of the IB, made the ISI responsible for the collection of internal intelligence too having a bearing on national security. He also created in the ISI a Covert Action Division to provide assistance to the tribal insurgents in India’s North-East.

The internal intelligence role of the ISI was further strengthened under the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto (1971-77) and then under the late Gen.Zia ul Haq (1977-88), who overthrew Bhutto and seized power in 1977. Both Bhutto and Zia used the Political Division of the ISI for the collection of intelligence about their political opponents and the ethnic and linguistic minorities. While the police officers of the IB continued to perform their internal intelligence collection role, the reports of the ISI were given greater credence than those of the IB.

Under Z.A.Bhutto and Zia, the role of the Covert Action Division of the ISI was expanded and strengthened in order to enable it to assist Sikh and Kashmiri separatists in India and radical elements in the Indian Muslim community. The assistance was in the form of funds, training and supply of arms, ammunition and explosives.

Z.A.Bhutto also ordered the creation of a new Division in the ISI to assist the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in the clandestine procurement of nuclear technology and equipment from abroad. This Division played an active role in helping Pakistan acquire a military nuclear capability.

Thus, when Zia overthrew Bhutto and seized power in 1977, the ISI had three important roles---collection of internal and external intelligence, covert action in India and clandestine procurement of nuclear technology and equipment.

The internal political intelligence Division of the ISI came under considerable criticism after the death of Zia in a plane crash in August,1988. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto won the elections held thereafter. The ISI, then headed by Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul, strongly opposed her taking over as the Prime Minister. It alleged that she was in touch with India when she was living in political exile in the UK and hence projected her as a security risk.

Under US pressure, the Army and the ISI agreed to her becoming the Prime Minister on condition that she would not have anything to do with the nuclear programme. Even after she had assumed office, the ISI kept disseminating reports alleging that she was an Indian agent. The ISI’s animosity to her increased when she abolished the internal political intelligence Division and ordered the Covert Action Division to stop supporting the Sikh separatists of India. However, she gave it a free hand in J&K.

The ISI’s animosity to her resulted in her dismissal by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in August,1990, and fresh elections. During the elections, the ISI, with money allegedly donated by a private bank, assisted the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Mr.Nawaz Sharif and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) in their election campaign and worked against the candidates of the PPP.

The PML and the JEI won the majority of seats. After taking over as the Prime Minister, Nawaz ordered the re-establishment of the internal political intelligence Division of the ISI. He also made Brig.Imtiaz, who used to head the Political Division of the ISI before 1988, the Director of the IB. Thus started the process of the militarization of the IB. This has continued since then and acquired momentum under President Pervez Musharraf.

Since 1990, there have been allegations that the Political Division of the ISI has been interfering in the conduct of the general elections in order to get candidates critical of the Army defeated through rigging and other means. These allegations gained force under Musharraf. In 2002, he was accused of misusing the ISI for ensuring the victory of the Pakistan Muslim League faction headed by Mr.Shujjat Hussain, which supported him. In the run-up to the elections on February 18,2008, there were similar allegations of the misuse of the ISI by him to influence the results.

De jure, the ISI is supposed to report to the Prime Minister, but de facto it generally reports to the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) and keeps the Prime Minister in the dark about its activities. There were, however, three instances when the heads of the ISI were more loyal to the Prime Minister than to the COAS and this created tensions in the relations between the Prime Minister and the COAS.

The first instance was during the first tenure of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister (1988 to 1990). To reduce the powers of the ISI, to re-organise the intelligence community and to enhance the powers of the police officers in the IB, she discontinued the practice of appointing a serving Lt.Gen, recommended by the COAS, as the DG, ISI, and, instead appointed Maj.Gen. (retd) Shamsur Rahman Kallue, a retired officer close to her father, as the DG in replacement of Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul in 1989 and entrusted him with the task of winding up the internal intelligence collection role of the ISI and
civilianising the IB and the ISI.

Writing in the "Nation" of July 31,1997, Brig.A.R.Siddiqui, who had served as the Press Relations Officer in the
army headquarters in the 1970s, said that this action of hers marked the beginning of her trouble with Gen.Mirza Aslam Beg, the then COAS, which ultimately led to her dismissal in August,1990. Gen.Beg stopped inviting Kallue to the Corps Commanders conferences and transferred the responsibility for covert action in India from the ISI to the Army intelligence directorate working under the Chief of the General Staff (CGS).

The second instance was during the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif (1990-93) as the Prime Minister. He appointed as the DG,ISI, Lt.Gen.Javed Nasir, a fundamentalist Kashmiri officer, though he was not recommended by Gen.Asif Nawaz Janjua, the then COAS, for the post. This created friction in the relations between Nawaz Sharif and his COAS, who excluded the ISI chief from all important Army conferences.

The third instance was during the second tenure of Nawaz Sharif (1997-99) when his action in appointing Lt.Gen. Ziauddin, an engineer, as the DG,ISI, over-riding the objection of Musharraf led to friction between the two. These instances would show that whenever an elected leadership was in power, the COAS saw to it that the elected Prime Minister did not have effective control over the ISI and that the ISI was marginalised if its head showed any loyalty to the elected Prime Minister.

In the 1990s, there was a controversy in Pakistan as to who really controlled the ISI and when was its internal Political Division set up. Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan, former chief of the Pakistan Air Force, filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the legality of the ISI's Political Division accepting a donation of Rs.140 million from a bank for use against PPP candidates during the 1990 elections. Testifying before the Supreme Court on June 16,1997, Gen. (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg claimed that though the ISI was manned by serving military officers and was part of the Ministry of Defence, it reported to the Prime Minister and not to the COAS and that its internal Political Division was actually set up by the late Z.A.Bhutto in 1975.

Many Pakistani analysts challenged this and said that the ISI, though de jure under the Prime Minister, had always been controlled de facto by the COAS and that its internal Political Division had been in existence at least since the days of Ayub Khan, if not earlier.

After the elections of 2002, Musharraf kept the ISI directly under his control and did not allow the elected Prime Minister to have any responsibility for supervising its work.

During the 1980s, the Covert Action Division of the ISI was used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US for recruiting, training and arming not only Afghan Mujahideen, but also fundamentalist elements of Pakistan for fighting against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The Saudi intelligence agency recruited over 6,000 Arabs in West Asia and North Africa and sent them to the ISI for being trained, armed and infiltrated into Afghanistan. All the funds and arms and ammunition from the CIA and all the funds from the Saudi intelligence for use against the Soviet troops were channelled through the ISI. Among the Arabs brought in and trained were Osama bin Laden and his supporters. The ISI’s links with bin Laden and his operatives thus started from the 1980s with the knowledge and approval of the CIA.

The withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988-89, which was due to the jihad waged by the Afghan Mujahideen, Pakistani jihadis and the Arabs under bin Laden, strengthened the reputation of the ISI. During the same period, the ISI helped DR.A.Q.Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, in the clandestine procurement and transport of nuclear equipment for the Kahuta Uranium Enrichment plant, which enabled Pakistan to acquire a military nuclear capability with the technology given by China and the equipment procured by the ISI. The US closed its eyes to the nuclear procurement activities of the ISI because of the CIA’s dependence on it for the jihad against the Soviet troops.

Differences started appearing between the CIA and the ISI in 1990. These were due to the CIA’s unhappiness over the non-co-operation of the ISI in its efforts to buy back from the Afghan Mujahideen the unused shoulder-fired Stinger missiles supplied to them for use against Soviet aircraft. The CIA’s concerns over the ISI were enhanced by reports of Pakistani assistance to Iran in the nuclear field starting from 1988 and Pakistani contacts with China and North Korea in the nuclear and missile fields.

In 1993, the Clinton Administration forced Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, to remove from the ISI Lt.Gen. Javed Nasir, the then Director-General, and some of his officers because they were seen as non-cooperative in its efforts to buy back the Stingers. Nasir was a Deobandi fundamentalist, who belonged to the Tablighi Jamaat, a Pakistani organization to preach Islam, which was assisting the jihadi organizations in their recruitment drive in Pakistan and abroad.

In 1994, during the second tenure of Benazir as the Prime Minister, the ISI and Maj.Gen.Naseerullah Babar, her Interior Minister, acted jointly in encouraging the formation of the Taliban in order to restore law and order in Afghanistan, which had collapsed after the Afghan Mujahideen came to power in April,1992. By September,1996, the Taliban, with the ISI’s help, succeeded in capturing power in Kabul and extending its control over all the Pashtun areas.

Initially, the CIA closed its eyes to it because UNOCAL , the US oil company, was interested in the construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan and was facing difficulty in going ahead with this project due to the break-down of law and order. The US interest in seeking the assistance of the Taliban for the UNOCAL project disappeared after the UNOCAL itself abandoned it as not feasible. In 1996, Osama bin Laden and his advisers shifted from the Sudan to Afghanistan when the Taliban had not yet captured power in Kabul.

After capturing power in Kabul, the Taliban welcomed the presence of bin Laden and encouraged him to shift from Jalalabad to Kandahar. He was permitted to start his training infrastructure in Afghan territory. Alarm bells started ringing in the US over the developing nexus between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the role played by the ISI in training the Taliban and reports of the resumption of the contacts of bin Laden with his old friends in Pakistan in the ISI as well as in Pakistani fundamentalist organizations.

The US concerns over these developments increased after bin Laden formed in 1998 his International Islamic Front (IIF) For Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People and Al Qaeda organized explosions near the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam on August 7,1998. The US Cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghan territory on August 20,1998, were not effective.

From then on, there was increasing pressure by the US on the Government of Nawaz Sharif to either pressure the Taliban to hand over bin Laden to the CIA or to permit the US Special Forces to mount a special operation from Pakistani territory to kill or capture bin Laden. Nawaz did not do either as he was afraid of the repercussions in Pakistan if he collaborated with the US against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

After overthrowing Nawaz Sharif and seizing power in October, 1999, Musharraf appointed Lt.Gen.Mahmood Ahmed, a close friend of his, as the DG of the ISI. The US was unhappy over what it viewed as non-cooperation by the ISI in its efforts to have bin Laden killed or captured. Before it started its military strikes on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghan territory on October 7,2001, it pressured Musharraf to replace Lt.Gen.Ahmed as the DG of the ISI. Musharraf appointed Lt.Gen.Ehsan-ul-Haq as the DG. He was succeeded by Lt.Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, who has since taken over as the COAS from Musharraf. The present DG is Lt.Gen.Nadeem Taj.

Kiyani tried to keep the ISI out of political controversies. In recent months, it is the IB which is becoming increasingly controversial after Musharraf appointed Brig (retd) Ijaz Shah, a close personal friend of his, as its Director and inducted a number of retired army officers into it. He also placed the IB under the control of Shaukat Aziz, his confidante, who was the then Prime Minister. Before her assassination, Benazir used to complain that the threat to her security mainly came from Ijaz Shah, Lt.Gen.(retd) Hamid Gul and Chaudhury Pervez Elahi, former Chief Minister of Punjab, all the three of them Zia loyalists. She did not make any complaint against the ISI. However, since her assassination, there have been allegations by her party members that junior officials of the ISI might have also been involved in her assassination in addition to those named by her when she was alive. Ijaz Shah resigned after the elections.

The ISI has always had three operational priorities. Firstly, the annexation of Kashmir through covert action; secondly, acquiring a strategic depth in Afghanistan through a Government which would be favourable to Pakistani interests; and thirdly, to help the Government in its clandestine nuclear and missile procurement efforts.

These priorities have not changed. That is why it has refrained from taking action against the Pakistani jihadi organizations, which are active in India and against the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, which is operating against the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Balochistan and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

While pretending to extend unconditional co-operation to the US in its so-called war against terrorism, Musharraf kept the co-operation confined to action against Al Qaeda operatives based in Pakistani territory. Even the co-operation against Al Qaeda is restricted to action against Al Qaeda sleeper cells operating from non-tribal areas. He did not take any effective action against Al Qaeda sanctuaries in the FATA or against the leadership of the Neo Taliban, headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar, its Amir, operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan. Nor did he act against the terrorist infrastructure directed against India.

In December,2003, Musharraf escaped two attempts to assassinate him at Rawalpindi allegedly mounted by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements with the complicity of some junior officers of the Army and the Air Force. The failure of the ISI to detect this conspiracy led to fears that there are elements in the ISI, which are opposed to co-operation with the US even against Al Qaeda.

Dr.Aamir Liaqat Hussain, the then Minister of State for Religious Affairs, gave expression to these fears in an interview to the "Daily Times" of Lahore on May 5, 2005. He warned that Musharraf had a lot of enemies ‘within’ who could make an attempt on his life again at any time. He said that there were certain elements within the forces who could attack the General. He added: “No common people could attack President Musharraf, but certainly there are elements in the forces who can launch yet another attack against him. There is an ISI within the ISI, which is more powerful than the original and still orchestrating many eventualities in the country.” He added that he feared a threat to his own life because he supported Musharraf's call for an enlightened and moderate Islam and had been given the task of preparing the texts of sermons advocating enlightened and moderate Islam to be used at all mosques of the Armed Forces.

The sympathies of many serving and retired officers of the ISI and the Army for Al Qaeda, the Neo Taliban and the Pakistani jihadi organizations and the unwillingness or inability of any Government of Pakistan to act against them are coming in the way of the success of the so-called war against global jihadi terrorism.

3 comments:

Ram said...

Dear Mr.Raman Thanks for your illuminating piece on the ISI. Could you also elaborate on the probable role of the ISIS ion recent bomb blasts in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and seizure of bombs in large numbers in Surat?

Is Indian counterintelligence sleeping or are they not competent enough to foil such attempts? Are the intelligence agencies of state and Central Governments of BJP and Congress blame for this soft approach on terror? Why is the Indian Government ashamed to take the help of USA, UK and France to build a sophisticated and modern forensic laboratories as it does not have the necessary expertise? Your experience as intelligence veteran could help in illuminating these aspects for average Indians.

Warm Regards

Ram

Non Resident of Indian Origin
Singapore

Mumble Bee said...

Very informative indeed. You are very quick to comment on latest strategic development in the world that effects India. Hope some of our leaders are taking cues from your publications. From your posting, I gather ISI is a very efficient organization, even RAW with its huge slush funds cannot takeout a Dawood Ibrahim or ISI officers in Paki land. So isn't it time to militarize RAW. Its a shame that embassy is bombed and all our leaders can come up with is "cowardly act" condemnation. Does it take a huge amount of time to activate a "Metsada-Kidon" type unit to undertake "Wrath of God" type ops. What is your take on RAS cadre vs IPS cadre feuds in RAW, is this the cause of our response paralysis?

Raghav said...

Sir, even though i agree with your analysis, there are a few points that i would like to raise.

1. The ISI is staffed with serving military officers. The Pak. army is a very professional and disciplined organization. Hence the army would have absolute authority over the ISI. No officer in the ISI would dare work against the interests of the army or act independently without the army's knowledge. So isn't it justified in assuming that every action of the ISI enjoys the army's blessings. If so where is the question of an 'ISI within the ISI'.

2. You say that since the ISI failed to detect the assassination attempts on Musharraf, elements within the ISI wanted to do away with him. Then what about R&AW's failure to detect the assassination of Indira & Rajiv Gandhi. Can we arrive at the same conclusion about our R&AW.