Putting the ISI in its place

For a few tense hours between late night on Saturday and the wee hours of Sunday morning, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was “under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division”. That’s about as long as the civilians that presumably run the government can even pretend to keep it under their control.

It was endearing to see Major-General Athar Abbas, the army’s spinmeister, tell us why Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s order was misunderstood: “The MI-5 is responsible for internal security, while the MI-6 deals with external security matters in the United Kingdom. It is illogical to place the MI-6 under the MI-5. Similarly, the ISI cannot be placed under the Interior Ministry’s control.” [Yes, yes, we know. General Athar was misunderstood too. He meant the UK Home Office, not MI-5. A clarification is on the way]

But seriously, what was Mr Asif Ali Zardari thinking? That Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973 would suddenly start applying…that too to the ISI?


What’s come over M K Narayanan?

There was no fig leaf about “rogue elements” or suchlike. The national security advisor’s words appear as if the gloves are off.

”We have no doubt that the ISI is behind this. We are in the favor of the peace process, but the ISI is not in any way part of it. The ISI is playing evil. The ISI needs to be destroyed,” said M K Narayanan. [NDTV]

In a comment that perhaps reflected the sentiments in the government, Narayanan was also quoted as saying that such acts of terror need retaliation. “I think we need to pay back in the same coin. We are quite clear in our mind,” he said.

Indicating that the joint anti-terror mechanism with Pakistan had run its course, Narayanan was quoted as saying: “The anti-terror mechanism was one piece of this picture. The hope was that in course of time both sides would share whatever information they have and come up with a holistic idea of what was going on.

“Talk-talk is better than fight-fight. But it hasn’t worked so far. In some way, we haven’t arrived at the decision that we should go for fight-fight so let talk-talk continue for the moment.” [TOI]

The attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul

It’s not going to move India

It is said to be the worst terrorist attack in Kabul since 2001—terrorists killed over 41 people and left more than 139 injured in a suicide bombing outside the Indian embassy in Kabul today. Four of those killed were Indians. The rest, most likely, were all Afghans.

According to early reports, the bomber set off the bombs when two embassy vehicles were entering the compound. Brigadier R D Mehta, the defence attache, and V Venkateswara Rao, the political and information counsellor were in those cars. Ajai Pathania (Rathore?) and Roop Singh, security personnel guarding the embassy, were also killed in the blasts. It does not appear to be a random attack on the embassy—the timing suggests that the attackers deliberately targeted at the Indian diplomats.

It is reasonable to speculate that the attackers want to browbeat India into stepping out of Afghanistan. India has played a quiet but determined role in the Afghan reconstruction, and the attack could well suggest that this is threatening the Taliban and those opposed to the Hamid Karzai government.

Attacking construction crews in the Afghan countryside is one thing. Attacking top diplomats at the Indian embassy in Kabul is another. Why the Taliban sought to escalate their violence against India remains the question. Not least when they are engaged in a two-front war—against the US & NATO forces in Afghanistan, and, to some extent, against Pakistani forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas and NWFP. The embassy might have offered a target of opportunity and the attack might have been a tactical success, but its strategic utility is suspect.

That’s because India is quite unlikely to be deterred by this attack. It is unlikely to scale down its reconstruction initiatives. If the attacks were intended to provoke and suck India deeper into Afghanistan, then that too is unlikely to happen. In all likelihood, the Indian response would be to harden the targets and move on.

That opens up the other possibility: is this the handiwork of Pakistani interests? The political turmoil in Pakistan has certainly created a window of opportunity for the tradition “strategic depth” seekers to try and play their old games again. Knowing that the “noise” makes a retaliatory Indian tit-for-tat response unlikely, it is possible that one of the factions in Pakistan’s security establishment ordered the strike. Tactical success, but again, the strategic value remains uncertain.

One thing is clear though—as far as the United States is concerned, the war in Afghanistan needs its own General Petraeus.

Update: On what India should do now.

The Chinese submarine base everyone knew about

Well, almost everyone

That a British newspaper should get its readers all excited about China’s ‘secret’ submarine in Sanya, Hainan is explicable, for this is the time when the Western world is purposefully discovering the Orwellian nature of the term “peaceful rise”.

Reports, satellite images, and analyses of China’s commissioning of Class 094 nuclear missile submarines (SSBNs) have been around in the blogosphere—also logged on this blog—for a few years now. [See Arms Control Wonk’s coverage, dating back to August 2004] The only thing new—but entirely predictable—is that China’s base in Sanya is probably already operational.

You would expect the intelligence communities in key capitals around the world—including India’s own—to know this. So, if media reports do not exaggerate, it should come as a surprise that the Indian cabinet needs to convene a special meeting to discuss the Sanya naval base, as if it were a fresh new revelation.

During a recent interview with Pragati, K Subrahmanyam pointed out that the political leadership only gets interested in intelligence briefings after the fact. From what we can tell, that’s perhaps the case with this one too.

Dud, decoy or blown?

What happened in Barcelona

The New York Times has an interesting account on the arrest of 14 suspected jihadis in Barcelona. It turns out that the arrests were prompted by signals from a double-agent that the French had inside the al-Qaeda related outfit planning attacks in several European cities. When Spanish security forces apprehended the suspects, they found far too little physical evidence to have a watertight case.

Of those still in custody, all are either Pakistani or of Pakistani origin, except for one Indian citizen. In questioning by prosecutors, all have denied being part of a terrorist conspiracy, the Spanish authorities said.

But Spanish law enforcement officials were clearly disappointed. There was no hard evidence of a bomb factory, no viable explosive devices or even enough explosive material to assemble bombs.

Investigators are struggling to understand the gap between the informant’s version of events and the physical evidence they found.

The informant apparently had seen much more bomb-making material than was seized by the Spanish authorities, according to a Western official with direct knowledge of the case. The extra material had disappeared, apparently with one of the suspects who fled, the official added. [NYT]

There’s too much there to suggest that this was a hoax, and too little to conclude that an attack was imminent. Unless one of the suspects managed to give the Spanish authorities the slip carrying the rest of the explosives with him, it’s possible that this was a decoy operation. By whom?

And then, it could well be that the would-be terrorists were tipped off. They were said to be making phone calls on the day before the cops moved in.

The Turks who spied for Pakistan (and the Americans who aided them)

The bottom is not only foggy. It’s leaky

The Sunday Times finds Turks in the rabbit hole. Turkish intelligence agents paid senior American officials to get hold of nuclear technology related information, and passed this on to Pakistan’s ISI (and Israel). A Pakistani embassy official’s daughter worked as a translator at the FBI, equipped with a top secret securlty clearance. In addition to the well-known case of a plane-load of Saudi citizens that were allowed to leave the United States after 9/11, comes the revelation that a senior State department official managed to get a few of these agents released and repatriated after they were caught in the dragnet.

Sibel Edmonds, a whistleblower, has implicated “one well-known senior official in the US State Department” and an unstated number of “senior Pentagon officials—including household names”.

Update: Larisa Alexandrovna, over at The Huffington Post, does what The Sunday Times stopped short of: name names; and the BRAD Blog has more details; Lukery’s blog (mirrored on The Daily Kos) is also one of the places to go on this story.

The evidence the CIA destroyed…

…might have incriminated Saudi and Pakistani governments in the 9/11 conspiracy

Over at The Huffington Post Gerald Posner reveals that the tapes that the CIA destroyed might have exposed the role of senior Saudi and Pakistani officials in the 9/11 attacks (linkthanks Swami Iyer). Because one of the tapes they destroyed concerned the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. As Posner first revealed in his 2003 book, Zubaydah’s capture was followed by the deaths of four people, three Saudi princes and one Pakistani air chief, within a few days of each other and under mysterious circumstances. And Zubaydah had named these very four people.

Zubaydah is the only top al Queda operative who has secretly linked two of America’s closest allies in the war on terror — Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — to the 9/11 attacks. Why does Bush, and the CIA, continue to protect the Saudi Royal family and the Pakistani military, from the implications of Zubaydah’s confessions? It is, or course, because the Bush administration desperately needs Pakistani and Saudi help, not only to keep Afghanistan from spinning completely out of control, but also as counterweights to the growing power of Iran. The Sunni governments in Riyadh and Islamabad have as much to fear from a resurgent Iran as does the Bush administration. But does this mean that leads about the origins of 9/11 should not be aggressively pursued? Of course not. But this is precisely what the Bush administration is doing. And now the cover-up is enhanced by the CIA’s destruction of Zubaydah’s interrogation tapes.

The American public deserves no less than the complete truth about 9/11. And those CIA officials now complicit in hiding the truth by destroying key evidence should be held responsible. [The Huffington Post]