July 26, 2010

The ISI Connection with Taliban

They’re at it again. But this time the US is refraining from obliquely placing the blame squarely on Pakistan’s shoulders by coming to its recue right on cue. Most of you probably don’t know, but I’m talking about leaked Pentagon papers that connect the ISI with the Taliban available on the website Wikileaks. According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Ike Skelton:
“Some of these documents implicate Pakistan in aiding the Taliban and fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan.”
However he was forceful enough to let it be known that Pakistan has amended its ways and is now cooperating whole heartedly in the war against terror. He went onto state that:
“…While we still have concerns about Pakistan's efforts against the Afghan Taliban, there is no doubt that there have been significant improvements in its overall effort…”
The timing of this episode is crucial. General Kayani has just been given a three year extension and regardless of how much head shaking is done in Islamabad, Washington definitely had a play in the whole affair. What is also critical is that the papers implicating the ISI are from 2004 – 2009 (source: Dawn), and if you remember, General Kayani was anointed Chief of ISI in 2004. Since then, right up to the time Musharraf left, the US has been shouting itself hoarse over the need for Pakistan to do more. That was also the time Kayani was head of the ISI. These leaked papers then, come as no surprise. What does surprise me however is the meekness that the US has been showing to General Kayani of late. Short of giving him the “most-favored-person” status, they have done everything in their capacity to wipe his slate clean. But I’ll leave that for another day.

The fact of the matter is that despite the denials that the ISI might make, there have indeed been outright contacts between it and the Taliban. We simply cannot walk away from that fact. However this new paradigm shift in the US’ operative thinking where Pakistan is suddenly being touted as a major player in the war against terror, and the world is being told that Pakistan has been unjustifiably treated, has me confused. It makes me glad, but it also makes me uneasy at the same time. Is this the lull before the storm? Or is this a repeat telecast of the 1980s, when it took the US just two years to turn its back on its most trusted friend?

The ISI is no white horse. It is a professional agency with deep strategic interests and as such there is bound to be some hoopla attached to it. What troubles me most however, is that in order to achieve those strategic goals, the ISI is willing to shed and sacrifice Pakistani blood and that is incongruent with the general idea that the ISI is supposed to be following; protecting Pakistan, its people and its interests.

And while we’re at it, let’s also not forget that despite the US’ deep seated concerns regarding the talks between the Taliban, and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the US has given its blessings for the talks to go ahead. Once again this is a triumph for Kayani who has been reluctant so far, to venture out into the heart of the Taliban threshold, North Waziristan. This decision of the United States effectively renders any warranty from the Pakistan Army to undertake operations against militants in North Waziristan useless, as now they would be more likely to take the quieter route. It is no surprise then that the drone attacks have started once again.