By Mansoor Ijaz
Early on May 9, a week after US Special Forces stormed the hideout of Osama bin Laden and killed him, a senior Pakistani diplomat telephoned me with an urgent request. Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, needed to communicate a message to White House national security officials that would bypass Pakistan’s military and intelligence channels. The embarrassment of bin Laden being found on Pakistani soil had humiliated Mr Zardari’s weak civilian government to such an extent that the president feared a military takeover was imminent. He needed an American fist on his army chief’s desk to end any misguided notions of a coup – and fast.
Gen Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, and his troops were demoralised by the embarrassing ease with which US special forces had violated Pakistani sovereignty. Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s feared spy service, was charged by virtually the entire international community with complicity in hiding bin Laden for almost six years. Both camps were looking for a scapegoat; Mr Zardari was their most convenient target.
The diplomat made clear that the civilian government’s preferred channel to receive Mr Zardari’s message was Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff. He was a time-tested friend of Pakistan and could convey the necessary message with force not only to President Barack Obama, but also to Gen Kayani.
In a flurry of phone calls and emails over two days a memorandum was crafted that included a critical offer from the Pakistani president to the Obama administration: “The new national security team will eliminate Section S of the ISI charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network, etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan.”
The memo was delivered to Admiral Mullen at 14.00 hours on May 10. A meeting between him and Pakistani national security officials took place the next day at the White House. Pakistan’s military and intelligence chiefs, it seems, neither heeded the warning, nor acted on the admiral’s advice.
On September 22, in his farewell testimony to the Senate armed services committee, Admiral Mullen said he had “credible intelligence” that a bombing on September 11 that wounded 77 US and Nato troops and an attack on the US embassy in Kabul on September 13 were done “with ISI support.”Essentially he was indicting Pakistan’s intelligence services for carrying out a covert war against the US – perhaps in retaliation for the raid on bin Laden’s compound, perhaps out of strategic national interest to put Taliban forces back in power in Afghanistan so that Pakistan would once again have the “strategic depth” its paranoid security policies against India always envisioned.
Questions about the ISI’s role in Pakistan have intensified in recent months. The finger of responsibility in many otherwise inexplicable attacks has often pointed to a shadowy outfit of ISI dubbed “S-Wing”, which is said to be dedicated to promoting the dubious agenda of a narrow group of nationalists who believe only they can protect Pakistan’s territorial integrity.
The time has come for the state department to declare the S-Wing a sponsor of terrorism under the designation of “foreign governmental organisations”. Plans by the Obama administration to blacklist the Haqqani network are toothless and will have no material impact on the group’s military support and intelligence logistics; it is S-Wing that allegedly provides all of this in the first place. It no longer matters whether ISI is wilfully blind, complicit or incompetent in the attacks its S-Wing is carrying out. S-Wing must be stopped.
ISI embodies the scourge of radicalism that has become a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. The time has come for America to take the lead in shutting down the political and financial support that sustains an organ of the Pakistani state that undermines global antiterrorism efforts at every turn. Measures such as stopping aid to Pakistan, as a bill now moving through Congress aims to do, are not the solution. More precise policies are needed to remove the cancer that ISI and its rogue wings have become on the Pakistani state.
Pakistanis are not America’s enemies. Neither is their incompetent and toothless civilian government – the one Admiral Mullen was asked to help that May morning. The enemy is a state organ that breeds hatred among Pakistan’s Islamist masses and then uses their thirst for jihad against Pakistan’s neighbours and allies to sate its hunger for power. Taking steps to reduce its influence over Pakistan’s state affairs is a critical measure of the world’s willingness to stop the terror masters at their very roots.
The writer is an American of Pakistani ancestry. In 1997 he negotiated Sudan’s offer of counter-terrorism assistance to the Clinton administration.
Source: Financial Times