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The Killid Group
Leaks on ISI Unlikely to Change US PlansWritten by Killid
Thursday, 29 July 2010 11:16
President Hamid Karzai summed up the Afghan reaction to the voluminous amount of information that was made public through Wikileaks earlier this week: his spokesman Waheed Omar said the President had been surprised by the volume of the leaks but not its contents. In fact, the presidential spokesman said, the leaks would enable the government to make its case stronger regarding the main issues highlighted by the leaks- the lack of adequate care in military operations leading to civilian casualties and the involvement of Pakistan's intelligence agency in destabilizing Afghanistan.
The response of the U.S. government to the leaks has focused on the process of leaking rather than the contents and what they point to. The first response from President Obama's National Security Adviser, General James Jones, was to upbraid the leak and the media carrying it, describing the leak as a threat to the security of United States personnel. The Obama administration has also sought to distance itself from the period covered by the leaks by pointing to President Obama's new strategy on Afghanistan.
It was left to one of Jones' deputies, Benjamin Rhodes, to state that the "status quo is not acceptable" with regard to the presence of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. This was followed by a similar demand from President Karzai's national security adviser Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta who however coyly refrained from naming the country concerned.
Will the fresh information bring about a change in the attitude towards Pakistan? It seems unlikely.
Initial analysis of the reports suggests that the plethora of detail with regard to ISI involvement is not concrete and may not be sufficient to pursue action. More significantly, there is no evidence to suggest that there is any change in political will on this issue.
Though Rhodes termed the status quo unacceptable, it was less than a week ago that the international community was applauding the action taken by Pakistan. The communiqué of the Kabul conference states that participants "applauded the recent joint efforts of Afghanistan and its regional partners to combat terrorism by ending support, sustenance and sanctuaries for terrorists from wherever they are".
Hot and cold
The pattern of hot and cold words has been evident for some time. Underlying it is a strong bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan that dates back to the time Pakistan was carved out as a country.
Its intelligence agency, the ISI, is considered as one of the most powerful and complicated intelligence networks in the region and it has had a history of long-standing hostility with the Afghan and Indian governments. Though the civilian leadership of Afghanistan may cavil at the power of ISI, there is an underlying appreciation within Pakistan's ruling polity that ISI is the only organization which is able to ensure Pakistani national interests in the region and protect Pakistani territory. This gives the ISI a great deal of respect and clout. It has allowed the ISI to emerge gradually as the Pakistani government's main policy maker with regard to Afghanistan and India and even in the region.
During the recent years, ISI has had a big impact on the Pakistan government's military and non military policies and has worked like a supra-government, ruling inside the Pakistani government. .
The ISI was strengthened by western powers during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The intelligence agency was able to take advantage of the support provided to it both financially and operationally to support the insurgency against the Soviet backed government and the Soviet troops. A number of hard-line Pakistani military officials such as former President Zia ul Haq, Akhtar Abdul Rahman and Hamid Gul had a great influence on this agency and established close links with Pakistani Islamic extremists groups. After the death of Zia ul Haq, the People's Party of Benazir Bhutto and the Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif were not able to bring any change in the organization, but were rather stuck in the grasp of the ISI. Benazir Bhutto in fact played along and sought to acquire and retain power by creating and supporting the Taliban. The organization was further strengthened by former army chief and President General Pervez Musharraf, who also enlarged the role of the ISI in regional policies.
The Americans realize the role and importance of the ISI in Pakistan and are therefore reluctant to do more than mildly criticize it from time to time. Recent criticism from the U.S. during the visit of US Chief of Joint Staff Admiral Mike Mullen to the region, which was stronger, was because of the mounting pressure within the U.S. due to the increasing number of casualties of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. Most of the casualties are a result of the operations of the Haqqani group which is suspected to have close ties with the ISI.
However despite the US knowledge about the role of ISI in supporting terrorism, it is aware that Pakistan will not take any action on this issue. Therefore the US too is unlikely to insist on this but rather to continue to deepen its relationship with Pakistan which is considers as an asset and ally in the region.