The ISI in the dock

Two many Musharrafs…and too much noise

The gloves have come off. The US government has let it become known that not only was the ISI responsible for the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, but also cut the kerry that went by the name of “rogue elements” (who used to do things like passing information to the Taliban or fly C-130s to North Korea). This is a historic day in the history of US-Pakistan relations—and an unfortunate one in the career of Yusuf Raza Gilani. Not because the US government offered proof to the Pakistani government that the ISI has been up to some very naughty things. But rather, because the US government told the rest of the world about it, albeit through the New York Times.

So what happens next? Well, it’s hard to say. In the good old days, the army chief would issue orders to the commander of the X Corps in Rawalpindi, who would, in turn, task the commander of the 111 Brigade to hop over across the bridge and take control of the government. That is tough these days. Because taking control of the government is not a predicament that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani will wish onto himself. Forget those uppity lawyers and just-won’t-retire judges, who wants to go to the White House, and pleasantries and photographs done, to answer questions like “Who is in control of the ISI?”.

Asif Ali Zardari might well have found a whipping boy in Prime Minister Gilani, but these are ultimately his problems. To be sure, reforming the ISI is a solution—for the United States and for India, and most importantly, for Pakistan itself. But to execute it will be a political task of the toughest kind. It will require popular and elite support, it will require determination and will, and it will require great tact. Other than some popular support, Mr Zardari lacks the rest. If last weekend’s fiasco over the ISI is any indication, Mr Zardari looks like he is way out of his depth.

For the time being, as Bruce Riedel put it, every meal the US troops eat, and every bullet they shoot arrives in Afghanistan courtesy of the Pakistani military. The US government might authorise more missile hits from unmanned aerial vehicles, but this is limited by the counter-productive effects caused by the collateral damage. Unless the US is ready to explore alternative ways—a rapprochement with Iran comes to mind—this is about as much the US can do.

What does all this mean for India? Well, the good news is that the Pakistani government has almost no wiggle room left on ending its support for the Taliban enterprise. The bad news is that the Pakistani ‘government’ is nowhere near being in charge of the Taliban enterprise. Where once there were two players India had to engage—those who control its jihadis and those who control its nukes—it now has to engage them through those who make the speeches. C Raja Mohan argues that “India needs several simultaneous policies towards Pakistan”, ranging from shaping Pakistan’s internal politics, to direct talks between the two armies, to signaling that India is ready to impose a two-front war on Pakistan. The Pakistani army is unlikely to be warm up to the first two, but a two-front war? They’ll probably have to game that before making up their mind, not least because the US Congress is said to be linking aid to developmental goals.

12 thoughts on “The ISI in the dock”

  1. Nitin:

    a two-front war?

    I suspect you are suggesting Afghanistan, and certainly not restricting to an Indian Naval carrier in the Arabian sea. 🙂

    The idea of going into Afghanistan has many merits, but there will be strong political resistance in India. Left, SP, may be even BJP… and I wonder if the Congress has the stomach for such bold foreign policy actions

  2. Pragmatic,

    The two-front war is a suggestion that comes from C Raja Mohan’s article. As you can see, thinking people have come to the same conclusion.


  3. Nicely written witty post! You should write more with this happy pen, instead of sounding like the right wing nut that you do most of the time.

    This one’s a classic:

    ..who wants to go to the White House, and pleasantries and photographs done, to answer questions like “Who is in control of the ISI?”

  4. What Rahul means is that if he doe not like what you write, Rahul baba will turn libelous. Right?

  5. Rahul,

    Thank you. As for the sounds that you hear most of the time: where the sound comes from depends on where you are standing with respect to the speakers. If its coming from the right, it’s because you are standing on the left. If it’s coming from the right most of the time…

  6. Pakistan knows that the US needs Pakistan than Pakistan needs the United States. It is geo-political reality. Only two nations can help the United States in Afghanistan: Iran and Pakistan. The former is an official member of the ‘axis of evil’ the latter should be even thought they are called a non-Nato major ally, or whatever they call it. Pakistan knows this. The United States is to arrogant in dealing with Iran. The worst thing for Pakistan is warming of Iran-US relations. Than Pakistan will change its tune.

  7. Nitin: reading the US media “leaks” and Indian diplomats’ (Menon, Narayanan) statements, its hard to imagine them being independent salvos. Either the US is leading and India is jumping on the bandwagon opportunistically, or this is a coordinated effort. Pakistan’s severely sub-par establishment is road-kill in the media game. Gilani and Rehman Malik look like circus clowns when they fulminate. Sherry Rehman was far more palatable – besides being much easier on the eyes 🙂

    Seems the US does not mind ending Pakistan’s current experiment with democracy – for the steadier military hand – even if the fauji lies through his teeth. The civilian alternative is a guy who lies through his teeth AND cannot get anything done.

  8. Libertarian, I am not sure if it’s the former (btw, US jumped on India’s band wagon, in this case). US has been mumbling about LoP’s support to Taliban for a few months now, including the recent ambush and killing of US soldiers in a remote outpost. I think embassy blast just gave them a stick to beat ISI with. If ISI can cool taliban heels for few months, it’ll again be free to do what it wants east of the border and to Indians in Afghan as long as it’s low key. When Narayanan says he wants to destroy ISI, he has to do it alone.

  9. “sounding like the right wing nut ”

    Rahul, have you ever seen a right wing speaker who is not nutty even if he or she is happy?

  10. The only people who may be shuddering are the no 2s,3s and 4s, etc of al qaeda/taliban.

    With the increased pressure by Washington, suddenly one or more of these have become dispensable.
    For all factions, rogue as well as the na-rogue, it is better to hand over a few minor heads in the Al Qaeda hierarchy than having uncle sam breathing down their neck.
    Remember, overarching interest of these factions lies in the US leaving the area not going after them.

  11. Since the NYTimes report on ISI’s involvement in Indian embassy bombings, there’s a sudden up tick in Pakistan ads on CNN. The ad tries to portray Pakistan like some sort of modern country which everyone knows it isn’t. Poor blokes.

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