Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, has been accused of many bad things in its own country. It has been held responsible for rigging elections, sponsoring violent sectarian groups and running torture chambers for political dissidents. More recently, it has been accused of abducting Pakistanis and handing them over to the United States for cash.
But last week — after thousands of classified United States Army documents were released by WikiLeaks, and American and British officials and pundits accused the ISI of double-dealing in Afghanistan — the Pakistani news media were very vocal in their defense of their spies. On talk show after talk show, the ISI’s accusers in the West were criticized for short-sightedness and shifting the blame to Pakistan for their doomed campaign in Afghanistan.
Suddenly, the distinction between the state and the state within the state was blurred. It is our ISI that is being accused, we felt. How, we wondered, can the Americans have fallen for raw intelligence provided by paid informants and, in many cases, Afghan intelligence? And why shouldn’t Pakistan, asked the pundits, keep its options open for a post-American Afghanistan?
More generally, the WikiLeaks fallout brought back ugly memories, reminding Pakistanis what happens whenever we get involved with the Americans. In fact, one person at the center of the document dump is our primary object lesson for staying away from America’s foreign adventures.
Hamid Gul, now a retired general, led the ISI during the end years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and together with his C.I.A. friends unwittingly in the 1990s spurred the mujahedeen to turn Kabul — the city they had set out to liberate — into rubble. According to the newly released documents, Mr. Gul met with Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in 2006 and told them to “make the snow warm in Kabul … set Kabul aflame.”
This would seem highly sinister except that, today, Hamid Gul is nothing more than a glorified television evangelist and, as the columnist Nadir Hassan noted, “known only for being on half a dozen talk shows simultaneously.” He is also, for Pakistanis, a throwback to the lost years of our American-backed military dictatorships, a stark reminder of why we distrust the United States.
The ISI and the C.I.A. have colluded twice in the destruction of Afghanistan. Their complicity has brought war to Pakistan’s cities. After every round of cloak-and-dagger games, they behave like a squabbling couple who keep getting back together and telling the world that they are doing it for the children’s sake. But whenever these two reunite, a lot of children’s lives are wrecked.
In the West, the ISI is often described as ideologically allied to the Taliban. But Pakistan’s military-security establishment has only one ideology, and it’s not Islamism. It’s spelled I-N-D-I-A. It will do anybody’s bidding if it’s occasionally allowed to show India a bit of muscle.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, has just been given an unexpected three-year extension in his office, due in large part, it is said, to American pressure on Islamabad. Yet General Kayani headed the ISI during the period that the WikiLeaks documents cover. Since he became the head of the Pakistan Army — and a frequent host to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the number of drone attacks on Pakistani territory have increased substantially. It seems he has found a way to overcome his ISI past.
While he generally keeps a low profile, General Kayani in February gave an off-the-record presentation to Pakistani journalists. His point was clear: Pakistan’s military remains India-centric. His explanation was simple: we go by the enemy’s capacity, not its immediate intentions. This came in a year when Pakistan lost more civilians and soldiers than it has in any war with India.
Yet it has become very clear that an overwhelming majority of Pakistani people do not share the army’s India obsession or its yearning for “strategic depth” — that is, a continuing deadly muddle — in Afghanistan. They want a peaceful settlement with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir and a safer neighborhood. None of the leading parties in Parliament made a big deal about India, Afghanistan or jihad in their election campaigns. They were elected on promises of justice, transparency and reasonably priced electricity.
Lately, Americans seem to have woken up to the fact that there is something called a Parliament and a civil society in Pakistan. But even so, it seems that Americans are courting the same ruling class — the military elite’s civilian cousins — that has thrived on American aid and obviously wants an even closer relationship with Washington. A popular TV presenter who interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit later jibed, “What kind of close relationship is this? I don’t even get invited to Chelsea’s wedding?”
Pakistan’s military and civil elite should take a good look around before they pitch another marquee and invite their American friends over for tea and war talk. There are a lot of hungry people looking in, and the strung lights are sucking up electricity that could run a small factory, or illuminate a village. Besides, they’re not likely to know what WikiLeaks is — they’ve been too busy cleaning up after their masters’ guests
Mohammed Hanif, a correspondent for the BBC Urdu Service and the author of the novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes.