EDITORIAL: ISI in the news - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Secret files and documents held in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and obtained by the Guardian and New York Times show the US authorities’ view of the Pakistani ISI in a poor light. These files and documents are said to have been obtained by famous whistle-blower Wikileaks between 2002 and 2009, but at least the Times claims it received them from a different source. Whatever the source and acquisition route, these two prestigious newspapers have put the cat among the pigeons by publishing the US authorities’ assessment dating from 2007 that the ISI deserved to be ranked alongside such long-time enemies described as terrorist organisations as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since some (if not most) of these files relate to the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention facility, it needs to be noted that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay were instructed to treat association with the ISI as a justification for detaining prisoners in the facility since ISI had been classified as a “terrorist support entity”. The ISI joins the organisations mentioned above as well as Iranian intelligence amongst 32 groups on the list of “associated forces”, defined as “militant forces and organisations with which al Qaeda or the Taliban has an established working, supportive, or beneficiary relationship for the achievement of common goals”.

Although these revelations date from a US authorities’ assessment of four years ago, they shine the spotlight on, and may help explain, the current trust deficit between the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the US, a deficit that has by now eroded even the close military-to-military ties between the two countries. The spat between the ISI and American CIA broke out over the Raymond Davis affair and escalated over the drone attacks in FATA, which the Pakistani authorities say cause collateral damage in unrelated civilian deaths, which in turn produce pressures on the government.

Despite the relationship between the two sides being a symbiotic one, in which nether can part from the other without incurring negative consequences, the two issues of CIA operatives having the run of the land and the drones the run of the tribal areas have come to a head, provoking a rare candour from both sides. Admiral Mike Mullen on his recent visit weighed in with his take on the ISI’s connections with the Haqqani network (believed to have relations with al Qaeda) being the main problem in the relationship. Our military and security establishment in turn has stoked and later relied on public sentiment against the free run given to the CIA and drones by the Musharraf regime in a transparent attempt to renegotiate the terms of endearment. Why this is so critical at this moment is because all stakeholders are seeking to position themselves favourably for the endgame in Afghanistan. Who will sup with whom, in what pecking order at Kabul’s moveable feast is likely to loom large over the present course of events.

While the ISI is maintaining a meaningful silence over the Guantanamo files, it and the military establishment to which it reports came in for a bit of stick from an unexpected source within the country. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali came out all guns blazing on the floor of the house against the ISI and military establishment, accusing them of orchestrating the activities of “test-tube” politicians (a pointed reference to Imran Khan and his recent caravan march to Peshawar against the drone attacks). He went on to claim his party, the PML-N, had also been approached by these forces but had refused to go along with any agenda of destabilisation of the present dispensation or even any role for the military in politics. This diatribe from a political worthy known to be close to the military establishment acquires added significance and weight. Partly of course, Nisar was attempting to deflect criticism against him for meeting COAS General Kayani, but partly it was a broadside against the forces the PML-N believes were directly responsible for all they had to go through since the military coup in 1999. Nisar’s charge of the intelligence services and military establishment indulging in their usual bag of tricks was responded to by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. The prime minister agreed to address the concerns of the opposition leader if he could present substantive proof. The question though remains: do the political forces have the will to restrain the powerful intelligence services and military establishment? *

SECOND EDITORIAL: The great escape

Breaking out of a ‘maximum security’ facility is no mean feat. To be able to do it with help from the outside is even tougher. On Monday, some 475 prisoners — many of them Taliban insurgents — broke out of Kandahar prison in southern Afghanistan. They had help from insurgents on the outside who had been digging a tunnel into the prison for the past five months. This seems rather Hollywood-esque unless one considers a rather alarming possibility — that the prisoners and their cohorts had been helped by the wardens or guards at the facility. Without such inside cooperation, such an ambitious escape, spanning almost half a year, would just not have been possible without raising a few security alarms.

Kandahar prison is thought to be the most secure facility in the country. Considering that in 2008, some 1,000 Taliban prisoners escaped after an explosives-laden vehicle rammed into the building and now this latest escape act, that is not a reassuring claim. It also leaves much to be desired as far as trusting the loyalties of many local Afghans who may still have ties to the insurgents. NATO forces have already started their transfer of power process, equipping local Afghan security forces and the police with the muscle and know-how necessary to protect Afghanistan against the militants once the US finally withdraws in 2014. With such incidents occurring in the country and that too within the confines of a place secured by local forces, NATO and the US will have to rethink how they plan to leave with dignity and the gains they have made in the war on terror intact.

In such a fragile scenario, the US may just have to postpone its withdrawal date while making even more intense the training programmes and citizen rehabilitation projects it is imparting to ensure a smooth transfer of power. There is no way Afghanistan will see any peace if the US leaves it to fend for itself — once again — at the hands of a poorly equipped national security force and militants that have yet to be countered. Increased training and assessment of the priorities and views held by those within the local apparatus are paramount before the US moves out. Its exit strategy must be outlined with extreme caution. *

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\04\27\story_27-4-2011_pg3_1

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