GROUPS, NUCLEAR PAKISTAN,
AND THE NEW GREAT GAME
M. Ehsan Ahrari
The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the
Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
For the United States and other nations concerned with security in South and
Central Asia, one of the most ominous trends has been the growing influence of
Jihadist groups in Pakistan which feel obligated to wage holy war against
everything that they perceive as non-Islamic. Their objective would be a
Pakistani government similar to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The danger
this would pose to regional stability and U.S. interests is clear. The author
assesses Jihadi groups from the framework of a new "Great Game" for
influence in Central Asia involving an array of states. He argues that, if
this competition leads to increased violence, outside states including the
United States could be drawn in. On the other hand, if the region stabilizes,
it could provide solid economic and political partners for the United States.
A well-designed American strategy, Ahrari contends, might help avoid crises or
To view the complete study in an Adobe Acrobat format, click
for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI]
The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] was founded in 1948 by a
British army officer, Maj Gen R Cawthome, then Deputy Chief of Staff in Pakistan
Army. Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan in the 1950s, expanded
the role of ISI in safeguarding Pakistan's interests, monitoring opposition
politicians, and sustaining military rule in Pakistan.
The ISI is tasked with collection of of foreing and domestic intelligence;
co-ordination of intelligence functions of the three military services;
surveillance over its cadre, foreigners, the media, politically active segments
of Pakistani society, diplomats of other countries accredited to Pakistan and
Pakistani diplomats serving outside the country; the interception and monitoring
of communications; and the conduct of covert offensive operations.
The ISI has become a state within a state, answerable neither to the leadership
of the army, nor to the President or the Prime Minister. The result is there has
been no real supervision of the ISI, and corruption, narcotics, and big money
have all come into play, further complicating the political scenario. Drug money
is used by ISI to finance not only the Afghanistan war, but also the proxy war
against India in Punjab and Kashmir.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee deals with all problems bearing on the
military aspects of state security and is charged with integrating and
coordinating the three services. Affiliated with the committee are the offices
of the engineer in chief, the director general of medical service, the Director
of Inter-Services Public Relations, and the Director of Inter-Services
Staffed by hundreds of civilian and military officers, and thousands of other
workers, the agency's headquarters is located in Islamabad. The ISI reportedly
has a total of about 10,000 officers and staff members, a number which does not
include informants and assets. It is reportedly organized into between six and
Joint Intelligence X (JIX) serves as the secretariat which co-ordinates and
provides administrative support to the other ISI wings and field organisations.
It also prepares intelligence estimates and threat assessments.
The Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB), responsible for political intelligence,
was the most powerful component of the organisation during the late 1980s. The
JIB consists of three subsections, with one subsection devoted to operations
The Joint Counter Intelligence Bureau (JCIB) is responsible for field
surveillance of Pakistani diplomats stationed abroad, as well as for conducting
intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, China, Afghanistan and
the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union.
Joint Intelligence / North (JIN) is responsible for Jammu and Kashmir
operations, including infiltration, exfilteration, propaganda and other
Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous (JIM) conducts espionage in foreign
countries, including offensive intelligence operations.
The Joint Signal Intelligence Bureau (JSIB), which includes Deputy Directors
for Wireless, Monitoring and Photos, operates a chain of signals intelligence
collection stations along the border with India, and provide communication
support to militants operating in Kashmir.
Joint Intelligence Technical
In addition to these main elements, ISI also includes a separate explosives
section and a chemical warfare section. Published reports provide contradictory
indications as to the relative size of these organizational elements, suggesting
that either JIX is the largest, or that the Joint Intelligence Bureau is the
lrgest with some sixty percent of the total staff. The Bank of Credit and
Commerce International (BCCI) is the ISI's main international financial vehicle.
The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence is of particular importance at
the joint services level. The directorate's importance derives from the fact
that the agency is charged with managing covert operations outside of Pakistan
-- whether in Afghanistan, Kashmir, or farther afield. The ISI supplies weapons,
training, advice and planning assistance to terrorists in Punjab and Kashmir, as
well as the separatist movements in the Northeast frontier areas of India.
The 1965 war in Kashmir provoked a major crisis in intelligence. When the war
started there was a complete collapse of the operations of all the intellience
agencies, which had been largely devoted to domestic investigative work such as
tapping telephone conversations and chasing political suspects. The ISI after
the commencement of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war was apparently unable to locate
an Indian armoured division due to its preoccupation with political affairs.
Ayub Khan set up a committee headed by General Yahya Khan to examine the working
of the agencies.
The ISI has been deeply involved in domestic politics and, has kept track of the
incumbent regime's opponents. Prior to the imposition of Martial Law in 1958,
ISI reported to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army (C-in-C). When martial Law
was promulgated in 1958 all the intelligence agencies fell under the direct
control of the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator, and the three
intelligence agencies began competing to demonstrate their loyalty to Ayub Khan
and his government. The ISI and the MI became extremely active during the l964
presidential election keeping politicians, particularly the East Pakistanis,
The ISI became even more deeply involved in domestic politics under General
Yahya Khan, notably in East Pakistan, where operations were mounted to ensure
that no political party should get an overall majority in the general election.
An amount of Rs 29 lac was expended for this purpose, and attempts were made to
infiltrate the inner circles of the Awami League. The operation was a complete
Mr. Bhutto promoted General Zia-Ul-Haq in part because the Director of ISI,
General Gulam Jilani Khan, was actively promoting him. General Zia, in return,
retained General Jilani as head of ISI after his scheduled retirement. Zulfiqar
Ali Bhutto established the Federal Security Force and gave it wide-ranging
powers to counter the influence of ISI, but the force was abolished when the
military regime of Zia ul-Haq seized power in 1977. When the regime was
unpopular with the military and the president (as was Benazir Bhutto's first
government), the agency helped topple it by working with opposition political
The ISI became much more effective under the leadership of Hameed Gul. The 1990
elections are widely believed to be rigged. The Islami Jamhoori Ittehad [IJI]
party was a conglomerate formed of nine mainly rightist parties by the ISI under
Lt General Hameed Gul to ensure the defeat of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party
(PPP) in the polls. Gul denies this, claiming that the ISI's political cell
created by Z.A. Bhutto only 'monitored' the elections.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made Pakistan a country of paramount
geostrategic importance. In a matter of days, the United States declared
Pakistan a "frontline state" against Soviet aggression and offered to
reopen aid and military assistance deliveries. For the remainder of Zia's
tenure, the United States generally ignored Pakistan's developing nuclear
program. Pakistan's top national security agency, the Army's Directorate for
Inter-Services Intelligence, monitored the activities of and provided advice and
support to the mujahidin, and commandos from the Army's Special Services Group
helped guide the operations inside Afghanistan. The ISI trained about 83,000
Afghan Mujahideen between 1983 to 1997 and dispatched them to Afghanistan.
Pakistan paid a price for its activities. Afghan and Soviet forces conducted
raids against mujahidin bases inside Pakistan, and a campaign of terror bombings
and sabotage in Pakistan's cities, guided by Afghan intelligence agents, caused
hundreds of casualties. In 1987 some 90 percent of the 777 terrorist incidents
recorded worldwide took place in Pakistan.
The ISI continues to actively participate in Afghan Civil War, supporting the
Talibaan in their fight against the Rabbani government.
ISI is currently engaged in covertly supporting the Kashmiri Mujahideen in their
fight against the Indian authorities in Kashmir. Reportedly "Operation
Tupac" is the designation of the three part action plan for the liberation
of Kashmir, initiated by President Zia Ul Haq in 1988 after the failure of
"Operation Gibraltar." The designation is derived from Tupac Amru, the
18th century prince who led the war of liberation in Uruguay against the Spanish
rule. According to a report compiled by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)
of India in 1995, ISI spent about Rs 2.4 crore per month to sponsor its
activities in Jammu and Kashmir. Although all groups reportedly receive arms and
training from Pakistan, the pro-Pakistani groups are reputed to be favored by
the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence. As of May 1996, at least six
major militant organizations, and several smaller ones, operate in Kashmir.
Their forces are variously estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 armed men. They
are roughly divided between those who support independence and those who support
accession to Pakistan. The oldest and most widely known militant organization,
the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), has spearheaded the movement for
an independent Kashmir. Its student wing is the Jammu and Kashmir Students
Liberation Front (JKSLF). A large number of other militant organizations have
emerged since 1989, some of which also support independence, others of which
support Kashmir's accession to Pakistan. The most powerful of the pro-Pakistani
groups is the Hezb-ul-Mujahedin. The other major groups are Harakat-ul Ansar, a
group which reportedly has a large number of non-Kashmiris in it, Al Umar, Al
Barq, Muslim Janbaz Force and Lashkar-e Toiba, which is also made up largely of
fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to press reports, several
hundred fighters from Afghanistan and other Muslim countries have also joined
some of the militant groups or have formed their own. The Harakat ul-Ansar
group, a powerful militant organization which first emerged in 1993, is said to
be made up largely of non-Kashmiris.
ISI is reported to operate training camps near the border of Bangladesh where
members of separatist groups of the northeastern states, known as the
"United Liberation Front Of Seven Sisters" [ULFOSS] are trained with
military equipment and terrorist activities. These groups include the National
Security Council of Nagaland [NSCN], People's Liberation Army [PLA], United
Liberation Front of Assam [ULFA], and North East Students Organization [NESO].
ISI is said to have intensified its activities in the southern Indian States of
Hyderabad, Bangalore, Cochin, Kojhikode, Bhatkal, and Gulbarga. In Andhra
Pradesh the Ittehadul Musalmeen and the Hijbul Mujahideen are claimed to be
involved in subversive activities promoted by ISI. And Koyalapattinam, a village
in Tamil Nadu, is said to be the common center of operations of ISI and the
ISI Role in Pakistan's Politics
Dr. Bidanda M. Chengappa, Senior Fellow, IDSA
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate has over five decades of
nationhood emerged into a powerful institution in Pakistan. It has been active
as an organisation both under military rule and civilian regimes. The ISI gains
importance from the fact that the political and military leaderships have always
perceived threats to their national security since independence. The role of an
intelligence agency is to serve as the first line of defence by providing the
government with advance information about threats to national security.
The ISI has a monolithic organisational structure which oversees both external
and internal intelligence operations in the country. The organisation's internal
intelligence operations tend to be generally associated with the abuse of power.
This negative view needs to be linked to whether or not the government has
clearly defined their charter of duties for internal operations. Considering
this problem remains a grey area even in a liberal democracy like the United
Kingdom, the case of Pakistan as a 'limited' democracy may well be far worse. To
that extent both the government and the intelligence agency are to blame for the
latter's misuse of power.
Pakistan like other countries has serious problems in managing its intelligence
agencies. This is evident from the fact that in over five decades of nationhood
there have been six committees to review their functioning. To complicate
matters, the country has experienced 24 years of military rule in 52 years of
nationhood, which enables greater scope for misuse of intelligence agencies. It
is clear from journalistic reportage, writings of politicians, bureaucrats and
political commentators that both military and democratic regimes alike have
abused intelligence agencies for promoting their party/personal rather than
The ISI concentrated more on internal rather than external intelligence for the
first three decades. Till the 1970s, the organisation had a limited external
agenda which was largely India-centric. This was due to the fact that Pakistan
had fought three wars with India and remained preoccupied with an Indian
military threat to her national security. Thereafter the ISI altered its focus
with the Russian military entry into Afghanistan and has since evolved a greater
external orientation. The ISI was closely involved with the guerilla war against
Soviet forces through the 1980s. Despite these commitments the ISI retained its
internal-orientation due to the compulsions of military rule which involved
tracking political personalities and parties who could prove problematic for the
generals who wielded power.
Prior to the creation of the ISI, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) as the sole
intelligence agency was already in existence and was primarily a quasi-police
organisation headed by a senior police officer. The IB's poor performance in the
1947-8 Indo-Pakistan war over Kashmir resulted in the decision to create the ISI
with an India-centric focus in 1948. The civilian government in the initial
decade of independence depended on the IB for its intelligence inputs.
Thereafter with the switch to military rule in 1958, the ISI was on the
ascendant largely because the generals preferred to rely on an organisation with
a military character rather than a quasi-police outfit. To an extent, the ISI-IB
relationship was an extension of the civil-military equation in the country
wherein the civil bureacracy had weakened due to political interference,
corruption and lateral entries from the armed forces, besides other sectors. The
military however remained insulated from political interference and largely
maintained its professionalism.
While discussing the role of intelligence agencies in internal politics some
cases are justifiable wherein there is a national security angle. For instance,
the need for the ISI and/or the IB to keep track of domestic politics is
necessary owing to the separatist demands by various ethnic groups to break away
from the nation. This refers to the problem in Sind and Pakhtunistan which have
acquired ethno-nationalistic dimensions. It poses a serious threat to the
integrity of Pakistan and therefore the involvement of intelligence agencies in
principle may not be questionable. However intelligence operations are usually
suspect in their modus operandi which often merits scrutiny.
The aim of this paper is to examine the ISI role in Pakistani politics during
the post-Zia period which begins from September 1988 till the late 1990s. It
would be useful to provide a theoretical perspective for a better understanding
of the subject. This would include a discussion on the various models of
intelligence agencies and the nature of their operations. The major issues are:
(a) the formation of the Islamic Jamouhri Ittehad (IJI) in September 1988 as a
counter to the PPP (b) the taping of the private conversation between former
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the late Rajiv Gandhi in Islamabad in July
1989, (c) an abortive attempt to topple Benazir Bhutto through a vote of
no-confidence in October 1989 (d) Benazir's ouster from premiership in August
1990 (e) the split in the MQM party during April 1992 (d) the death of General
Asif Nawaz Janjua in January 1993.
To understand the ISI's domestic intelligence activities in the 1990s it would
be useful to review its internal role under earlier regimes. The paper therefore
outlines the ISI internal role under leaders like Ayub Khan, Zulfiquar Ali
Bhutto and Zia-ul Haq. Though the paper primarily deals with the ISI, it also
discusses some instances of IB involvement in internal politics. The four main
intelligence agencies in the country are the Intelligence Bureau, the ISI, the
Military Intelligence (MI) and the state police Special Branch (which provides
intelligence from the provinces).
The main sources of the 'idea' of the state are to be found in the concept of
nation and the organising ideology. Invariably a strong state apparatus might
compensate for a weak organising ideology or legitimacy. A weak state has an
overriding concern with domestic security threats and is characterised by
insufficient political and societal consensus to enable them to eliminate the
large-scale use of force.
The characteristics of a weak state are: (a) high levels of political violence
(b) active role of political police affecting the daily life of citizenry (c)
political conflict over nature of the organising political ideology (d) lack of
coherent national identity (e) no clearly defined hierarchy of political
authority (f) high degree of state control over the media.1
In a scheme for the classification of intelligence agencies there are three
models: (a) bureau of domestic intelligence (b) political police (c) independent
security state. (a) The bureau would have specific powers derived from a charter
or statute and it is primarily concerned with information-gathering about
criminal prosecution of security offences and it does not conduct aggressive
countering operations against citizens or political groups. (b) the political
police is different from the bureau because it enjoys greater autonomy from the
democratic policy-making and is adequately insulated from the legislative and
judicial scrutiny. It is close to the groups in power wherein its powers and
responsibilities flow from loosely defined delegations of executive power. It
could also gather political intelligence and conduct aggressive countering
operations against political opposition. (c) The independent security state has
no external controls and differs from the political police because its goals are
determined by agency officials and could be dissimilar to that of the political
elite. Its operations are directed by the agency officials rather than the
The internal role of an intelligence agency essentially revolves around
counter-intelligence activities and domestic intelligence duties.
Counter-intelligence aims to thwart the efforts of hostile countries which
threaten national security through activities like espionage, subversion,
sabotage or assassination. Whereas domestic intelligence is concerned with:
"…threats against its ability to govern, or its very existence, that
arise from individuals or groups within the nation's borders. Such threats could
come from groups that seek to overthrow the government by illegal means, that
seek to use violence to change government policies, or that seek to exclude from
the body politic members of a given ethnic,racial, or religious group."3
There are different definitions of domestic intelligence which need to be
highlighted. According to one view "gathering information on individuals
within a country who allegedly attempt to overthrow the government or deprive
others of their civil liberties or rights." To quote another : "
information-gathering and record keeping which is unrelated to a particular,
known crime and is directed at persons and groups engaged in political
activity."4 The various definitions share a commonality about the political
nature of their targets of domestic intelligence. This therefore gives rise to
the label 'political police' which makes its role different from other internal
functions which focus on intelligence generated to deter criminal activity or
for law enforcement purposes.
What the state seeks from an intelligence organisation is information which can
provide assistance in the maintenance of control in order to achieve the desired
policies. If an intelligence agency does not confine its activities within a
framework of the law then it proves detrimental to the pursuit of democracy.
National security policy makers are forced to balance security needs with
pluralistic interests and expectations. Therefore an intelligence organisation
must be subject to civilian control:
… the growth of an unrepresentative and unaccountable state within the State
has been a product of the twentieth century . Its growth was, paradoxically,
actually aided by the unpopularity of security and policing agencies; forced by
this into the lowest possible visibility, they learned to develop techniques of
invisible influence and control.5
The study of intelligence agencies necessarily involves the three inter-linked
concepts of information, power and law. The objective of intelligence
organisations is to obtain information often by transgressing the law in order
to ensure there is no threat to the power of the state.
Theoretically, decision-making in government is supposed to have the benefit of
intelligence inputs. To that extent an intelligence agency has the ability to
influence decisions in its own way by providing or withholding information from
decision makers. In turn this affects the manner in which the government is able
to exercise its power.
Intelligence agencies often feel the need to obtain information through illegal
means like telephone tapping, audio-surveillance or bugging, breaking into
buildings to access documents, torture individuals etc. These activities of
intelligence agencies if exposed in the media can prove to be highly detrimental
to the position and image of the government. Yet the government becomes a party
to the acts of omission and commission of the intelligence organisations.
For the politico-bureaucratic leadership often intelligence-related activities
could prove to be an enormous embarrassment and therefore these agencies remain
low-profile faceless organisations. This particularly pays the government
dividends when it has to publicly deny any involvement about the role of an
intelligence agency which comes to light. Invariably such a situation arises
when the agency has mishandled an operation which then gives rise to a problem.
It could either be related to human rights or to a violation of a citizen's
privacy. Thus intelligence organisations as a faceless facet of governance
amount to an invisible government.
An intelligence agency, though a part of the bureaucracy, has some notable
differences which stem from the nature of its relationship to the state and
society. The agency attempts to maintain its autonomy from the state in terms of
targets, nature of operations and counter-strategies. It also helps an agency to
resist encroachment by other state agencies and thereby ensure its autonomy.
Significantly, secrecy is integral to sustain such autonomy.
The other issue is the intelligence agency-society relationship. The agency in
its information-gathering operations has to neccesssarily penetrate society.
These operations which are conducted on some occasions against resistance and
otherwise unheeded are aimed at the state's endeavour to maintain security and
Governments often tend to confuse their own security with security of the state
in the context of domestic politics.6 For instance the government often invokes
'national security' to identify domestic opponents with some foreign threat to
indulge in 'legitimate' violence.7
These threats have three dimensions-internal, external and externally fostered
internal security vulnerabilities. In view of such a situation an intelligence
organisation tasked with ensuring the security of state, is involved with both
internal and external security functions. Some countries have separate
intelligence organisations to operate internally and externally while others
have a single organisation for both internal and external operations.
While internal and external threats do not merit further elaboration, the
externally fostered internal security threat needs definition. It is an amalgam
of these two threats wherein a foreign power is involved with providing
assistance to insurgency or ethnic groups pursuing separatist demands. Similarly
a foreign power attempting to destabilise another country's government using the
latter's citizens through economic warfare or other means also falls under this
It would therefore be relevant to make a distinction between the role intended
of an intelligence agency in promoting internal security functions and its track
record gleaned from the print media or book length studies. In the case of the
ISI it appears that the agency has attempted to pursue its intended role as well
as interfere in domestic politics. The latter role gains importance from the
fact that it directly impacts on the political instability in Pakistan.
Introduction: pre-Zia period
This section discusses the ISI role in Pakistani politics under the various
leaders like Ayub Khan, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and Zia-ul Haq. Initially the ISI
lacked an internal role which was the domain of the Intelligence Bureau. However
as the first signs of seccessionism surfaced in the erstwhile East Pakistan
during the late 1950s the politco-bureaucratic leadership suspected the
sympathies of Bengali IB officers and directed the ISI to operate there.
This explains how the ISI role in domestic politics developed over the years.
Thereafter the government- of- the-day determined the priorities and directions
of the intelligence agencies. In turn these directives shaped the professional
culture and orientation of intelligence agencies in the country. One commonality
between these regimes whether military or civil was that they used intelligence
agencies to dabble in domestic politics.
Former Pakistan President Iskandar Mirza in an interview to the Pakistan High
Commissioner MAH Isapahani in Great Britain makes a reference to the Ayub era.
He highlights the priorities of military intelligence being more on internal
intelligence rather than on external intelligence. Mirza attributes Pakistan's
military failure in one of the Indo-Pakistan wars, among others issues, to this
incorrect orientation of the military intelligence apparatus.8
The late Editor Mazhar Ali Khan wrote in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn:
The ISI is seen by many people to be an unwanted legacy of military rule. While
under martial law regimes, the agency's expanding constitutional role was at
least understandable, because with the Constitution suspended, the will of the
military dictator took precedence over every rule, law and tradition; but after
the end of military rule and restoration of the Constitution, for ISI's
functioning to go beyond its parameters was violative of the Constitution. It
also defied the regulations that govern the network of agencies and institutions
that serve the armed forces.9
The ISI and the Intelligence Bureau from time to time participated in
influencing the domestic politics of Pakistan. The late President Ayub Khan
abused the ISI for political ends as did his successors Yahya Khan and late
Prime Minister Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. Under the Ayub regime, the ISI after the
commencement of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war was apparently unable to locate an
Indian armoured division due to its preoccupation with political affairs.
During the Ayub Khan years the ISI's professionalism comes across when it
convinced him against a particular course of action related to involvement in
internal politics. This incident relates to the military dictator's decision to
assassinate his political rival Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. However the ISI told
the President that he would soil his hands as the proposed victim had no
personal enemities and the murder could be easily traced back especially if
committed by a state organ.10
Similarly during the Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto regime the IB was accused of
malpractices going by the fact that its chief was shunted out of office unlike
his ISI counterpart. One reason for this could be that while the head of the IB
did not cooperate with the Pakistan Army in working against Bhutto the DG ISI on
the other hand must have supported the Generals.
Z.A. Bhutto has been credited with strengthening the ISI role in domestic
politics and in the mid 1970s, during his leadership there were problems in
Balochistan and North-West Frontier Province which neccessitated the creation of
ISI political cells in these areas. This was because the leadership distrusted
Pathan and Baloch IB officers.
The other reference to the ISI is available in Stanley Wolpert's latest book 'Zulfi
Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times'.11 The author states how the ISI and the
IB cooperated with each other to interfere in domestic politics during the late
Prime Minister ZA Bhutto's regime. According to him the Director of the IB, M
Akram Sheik and the Joint Director (IB) Muhammad Isa were busy with the
compilation of dossiers, analyses and detailed reports on National Assembly
candidates and their respective election prospects. He discusses how on February
19, 1977 the ISI headed by Director General Ghulam Jillani Khan alongwith the IB
jointly compiled an assessment of the PPP's election prospects. Brigadier (retd)
Syed Tirmazi, a former ISI officer states:
"It may be noteworthy that we hardly carried out any surveillance of
politicians. The activities of some were, however, kept under discreet, decent,
unobtrusive and invisible 'watch'. At times, we were also ordered to bug the
telephones of some individuals. Such orders came in writing from the Prime
Minister himself. This authority he had not delegated to anyone else. We would
compile the report and sent it to the PM with appropriate recommendations to
continue or discontinue the watch. In most cases it was discontinued".12
The Pakistan Government brought out a White Paper which focuses on the role of
intelligence agencies in the country and particularly their internal
involvement. Z A Bhutto has extensively referred to this White Paper in his
autobiography "If I Am Assassinated…" To quote:
The role of the Intelligence agencies of the State as a political arm of the PPP
regime, particularly in relation to the general elections, raises many
questions. When politics permeates such sensitive institutions as the
Intelligence Bureau or the Inter-Services-Intelligence Directorate, it naturally
deflects them from their prime concern with the State's external and internal
security. Political bias against dissenting political parties which are a very
necessary component of a democratic society, also tends to complicate and
distort the task of State security.13
Thereafter during the Zia years the role of the ISI is quite evident in Benazir
Bhutto's autobiography 'Daughter of the East' on how the martial law regime
sought to suppress the PPP. The ISI not only kept tabs on the Bhutto family when
they were in the country but also during their stay abroad. In one instance a
Pakistani surveillance team attempted to keep track of Benazir even while she
was in political exile in London. She then telephoned Scotland Yard and
complained about a car-load of men waiting outside her house. Only after that
the Pakistani intelligence ceased to intimidate her in London.14
A former Punjab Governor the late Lt General Ghulam Jillani Khan himself once
reportedly expressed apprehensions about being under surveillance during the Zia
regime. The General is supposed to have asked Brigadier Syed AI Tirmazi who was
then serving as the director—joint counter-intelligence—ISI Directorate,
whether he was under surveillance. General Ghulam Jillani Khan was a father
figure credited with nurturing the ISI rise from a peripheral to a powerful
organisation in Pakistan. He had served as the DGI under three regimes beginning
with President Yahya Khan, Prime Minister Ali Bhutto and President Zia. Given
his intimate knowledge of ISI's policy directives he may not have had misplaced
fears.15 Like his predecessors, Zia too did not hesitate to use the ISI for
promoting his political interests of retaining power. It is well known that the
military dictator instructed the ISI to unite all the opposition parties into
the IJI in order to neutralise the PPP from regaining power.
Information and Governance
The inability of democracy to take root in Pakistan provides scope for martial
law to assert itself which in turn gives rise to the ISI—as an adjunct of the
military—to get involved with internal politics. In a genuine democracy
symbolised by committed party workers and a free press the role of an
intelligence agency tends to get diluted due to the active role of democratic
institutions. Similarly in a 'limited' or 'guided' democracy which prevails in
Pakistan the converse is true.
Pakistan since creation faces a problem of political leadership which can be
traced to the colonial rule. During the British Indian regime local influentials
proved to be suitable candidates for elections to the provincial assemblies.
Thereafter with the ascendance of the Muslim League in nationalist politics a
problem arose because it was not an indigenous or "homegrown" party.
It was an external element in the provincial politics. Hence provincial
political leaders and bureaucrats developed a degree of suspicion towards the
Muslim League. To that extent the Muslim League was unable to substitute the
provincial administrative machinery "as a rival source of patronage".
In the process bureaucracy controlled the flow of funds rather than the
political party. These factors enabled the bureaucracy to eclipse the political
leadership and assert itself in the first decade of independence. Subsequently
power shifted from the bureaucracy to the military which then assumed the mantle
of leadership for almost two and a half decades. On account of these factors the
development of democracy remained dwarfed in the country.
In the absence of democracy there was no scope for political parties to develop
into strong organisations. In the sense that a politically well-managed party
voted to power would depend on its workers for information about political,
economic and social developments around the country. Similarly democracy is also
synonymous with a free press which provides the pulse of the nation and amounts
to an information channel for the government. Moreover, the hallmark of news
media being timely and credible news-reportage, it provides the best source of
information to the leadership as a tool for governance. Thus the lack of
democracy for almost two and a half decades has denied the nation two important
information channels, namely, the political parties and the press, which are so
necessary for good governance.
The Pakistani generals during their two and a half decades of military rule did
not opt for these democratic sources of information available to them. Instead
they had to rely on their intelligence agency as the sole source of information
as a tool for governance. So much so that in a martial law regime the
intelligence organisation played the dual role of political parties and the
press vis-à-vis the government. While the military has directly ruled the
country for almost half its existence earlier it has also indirectly ruled
during the other half through its intelligence agency. Evidently the military
never wanted to release its hold on political power and preferred to remain a
'back seat driver' guiding or limiting the evolution of democracy in the
country. Moreover the generals were keen on supporting a friendly political
regime that would agree to their terms and conditions in running the government.
The intelligence agency owing to its close relationship with the military
government was therefore able to emerge into a power centre in the country.
Post Zia period
During this period there was an uneasy relationship between the military and the
political leadership when the country last experienced a decade of democracy.
While the military did not directly intervene in the political process the
generals used the ISI as a lever to manipulate the course of politics to suit
their interests. Essentially the generals wanted a civilian government that
would not curtail their power and to that extent such democracy came to be
termed 'limited', 'guided' or Islamic democracy. The ISI was variously used to
prop up friendly political persona who enjoyed good relations with the military
leadership and conversely to minimise the chances of success for a hostile
leader through the creation of unfavourable conditions.16 It was also involved
with the creation of new parties or split existing ones in order to act as a
counter-weight against other parties.
Apparently the ISI proved to be more useful to the military leadership—in the
post-Zia decade—which could not exercise its power over state and society
overtly but had to do so covertly. The ISI under a civilian government had to
tread with care and caution so as not to embarrass the government. In the post-Zia
period the military as an institution had become unpopular among the people just
like it had earned a bad name for itself following the partition of Pakistan
post-1971. The military after a loss of face on both occasions therefore
preferred to withdraw to their cantonments. During these 'democratic'
interregnums the ISI political cell always remained active to ensure that the
elected leaders did not pose a threat to the power of the military
leadership.This threat to the generalship could emanate from an attempt to
interfere with areas that were declared military turf, like for instance the
Kashmir policy or nuclear policy.
During the post-Zia period former President Ghulam Ishaq Khan's dismissal of
then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto from office on August 6, 1990 was a
significant development highlighting the role of an intelligence agency in
national politics. The reasons officially stated were charges of corruption,
failure to work with the provinces and attempts to question the powers of the
However Benazir said that the ISI was involved against her government which
could be analysed in terms of the power of information. This is linked to the
concept of persuasion which is defined as "the process of making sure that
the other people obtain and believe information you want them to have"17
aptly applies to this case. The ISI as the 'eyes' and 'ears' of the military
would have had the power to influence the President to take a decision against
Benazir Bhutto—December 1988-August 1990
The ISI in September 1988 headed by Lt General Hamid Gul cobbled together the
Opposition parties in Pakistan and formed the IJI in order to defeat the Benazir
Bhutto-led PPP from coming to power. Clearly, caretaker President Ghulam Ishaq
Khan and the COAS General Beg were not keen on Benazir winning the elections and
they used all the resources at their command namely the ISI, the MI, the IB and
the police special branches to thwart her political victory.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was "in office but out of power"
as she was compelled to adhere to certain conditions of the military leadership
in order to assume office. These conditions included: (a) to continue the late
General Zia's Afghan policy (b) allow General Mirza Aslam Beg and Lt General
Hamid Gul to continue in their appointments as Chief of Army Staff and Director
General ISI respectively (c) not to depress the defence budget (d) not to
initiate any accountability proceedings against army personnel.
After Benazir became the Prime Minister she had a problem with the ISI in the
sense that an agency which was working against her till the other day now formed
part of her government. She associated the agency with her father's judicial
execution and saw it as a repressive arm of the military which therefore
amounted to an attitudinal problem towards the ISI. In tune with this mindset
one of her first moves was to sack Brigadier (retd) Imtiaz from the ISI and
close down its political division in early 1989. She appointed Major (retd)
Masood Sharif, a close friend of her husband, Asif Zardari as the Director IB.
Benazir had serious differences with the ISI over its Afghan policy in early
1989 and this resulted in a rift between the PM and the ISI leadership. The DG
ISI Lt General Hamid Gul was eased out from office and a retired Lt General
Shamsur Rehman Kallue was appointed the new DGI. According to one version the
COAS General Beg had transferred the dossiers on political leaders and other
records/materials related to political intelligence from the ISI headquarters to
the GHQ soon after Hamid Gul's relinquishing the appointment of the DGI.18 This
move neutralised the appointment of Lt General Kallue as DGI and also the
effectiveness of the ISI in domestic politics.
She also set up a committee under a former Air Chief Marshal Zulfiquar Ali Khan
to review the functioning of intelligence agencies in the country. The objective
of this exercise also aimed at a reorientation of the ISI exclusively for
external intelligence and the IB for internal intelligence roles in the country.
However Benazir was out of office before the implementation of these reforms on
the intelligence front were possible.
Lt General Gul when questioned about this involvement by Air Marshal (retd)
Zulfiquar Ali Khan (who headed the Intelligence review committee under the
Benazir regime ) said that, "If I had not formed the IJI, there would have
been no elections because the smaller parties have been fearful of taking on the
Benazir Bhutto strengthened the role of the Intelligence Bureau for
intelligence-gathering within the country in order to marginalise the
participation of the ISI in this self-appointed mission. This reflected in the
IB's budget increase to four times the existing figure. Benazir created 20
senior positions at the joint director level to strengthen the management
structure in the organisation.
She increased the numerical strength of the subordinate-level operational staff
by thrice the existing level and new IB cells were created at the tehsil
headquarters and at all the police stations. Another feature was computerisation
of the IB offices around the country. The IB was activated against terrorism and
narcotics related crimes by participating in liaison with foreign investigative
agencies. Importantly, the IB charter expanded to include support for Taliban
operations in Afghanistan.
Rajiv Gandhi-Benazir Bhutto conversation taped
In post–Zia Pakistan, intelligence agencies were effectively used to topple
governments. One such case pertains to how an intelligence agency was used to
remove then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto from office. It has been reported that
on July 17, 1989 an intelligence agency clandestinely recorded the. conversation
between then Prime Ministers Benazir and Rajiv Gandhi while the latter was on a
state visit to Pakistan. The room was bugged by the intelligence agency and the
two leaders in the course of their private meeting at Islamabad discussed, among
other issues, the possibility of mutual troop reduction. Apparently, Benazir was
supposed to have agreed in principle to the proposal.
Soon thereafter the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Mirza Aslam Beg and
President Ghulam Ishaq Khan met each other on July 24, 1989 and decided to
topple the Benazir government. In order to convince the Opposition and obtain
their backing for the need to destabilise the government these tapes were
reportedly played to them. 20 It essentially had the desired effect and
successfully influenced the Opposition parties to side with the COAS and the
President against Benazir Bhutto.
Operation 'Midnight Jackals'
Rahimullah Yusufzai writes in the Newsline of January 1991 that the ruling party
and the opposition were involved in big time spying against each other during
the PPP's eventful 20 month rule. IB tape records of clandestine "Operation
Midnight Jackals" provide a bizarre account of the PPP-IJI tussle to buy
over a Member of National Assembly on the eve of the no-confidence motion
against Benazir Bhutto.21
The "Operation Midnight Jackals" began with Mohammad Arif Awan a PPP
activist and MNA from Shiekupura district, who offered himself for sale in order
to penetrate the group working on behalf of the IJI. In other words he was a PPP
'plant' aimed at neutralising the hostile strategy of the IJI. According to his
version the IJI leader Malik Naeem, Senator Gulsher Khan from the Khyber Agency,
Brigadier (retd) Imtiaz, Major Aamer and Arif Awan's nephew, Malik Mumtaz were
the group who initially established contact with Mohammad Arif Awan.22
The PPP MNA Arif Awan, from September 28 to October 6, 1989, on his part
recorded the conversations between members of the group which were conducted at
his nephew Malik Mumtaz's residence. The plan of action was for Arif Awan
alongwith three other PPP MNAs to offer to switch sides and a deal was clinched
for Rs 50 lakh. On their part the PPP MNAs promised to vote along with the
Combined Opposition Parties MNAs in the no-confidence motion. The deal also
assured that one of the defectors would be made a Federal Minister if the IJI
proved successful in its venture.
The attempt however proved to be abortive in the first attempt on November 1,
1989 when the vote of no confidence could go through. Thereafter they were
successful the next year in the next attempt to do so. Former Prime Minister
Benazir Bhutto accused the ISI of deposing her from power. She said that the ISI
influences the Army through the power of information. While the Army respected
her, its leadership was briefed by the ISI and therefore went against her
Caretaker Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi—August 1990-November 1990
The caretaker government had appointed Major General Mohammad Assad Durrani
after the dismissal of the previous regime. During its brief tenure the
government through the ISI funded the political alliance of the Islamic Jamhoori
Ittehad led by the PML(N) President Nawaz Sharif.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif—November 1990-July 1993
After assuming office on November 19, 1990 the DGI Major General Mohd Assad
Durrani was promoted to Lt General and the government sought to reverse the
Benazir regime's move to downsize the ISI. The next logical step was to reduce
the importance of the IB which Benazir had strengthened as a counter-weight to
Nawaz Sharif headed the IJI-led government which also resorted to using
intelligence agencies to gain unfair advantage in domestic politics. This refers
to an incident when the IJI-led coalition government chose to spy on their
alliance partners the MQM which came to light on December 1990. The IB had
installed bugging devices in some rooms of MQM MNAs. Thereafter as a
precautionary measure other MQM MNAs also checked their rooms for bugging
devices and surprisingly they also made hitherto unknown discoveries there. For
instance, Mr Aminul Haq, parliamentary leader subsequently searched his room
Number 45 at the MNAs Hostel and found a transmitter behind the window.24
This proved to be a major embarrassment for the ruling IJI considering it was an
MQM ally at that time. Sharif somehow had to avoid any splintering of the MQM
from the alliance at that point in time. To remedy the problem the Federal
government sent a two member team to explain the situation and apologise to
Altaf Hussain in Karachi.
The Mohajir Quami Movement split
The conspiracy to divide the MQM was initiated during the Benazir regime but
took shape thereafter. At that time Lt General Asif Nawaz Janjua was a corps
commander Karachi and was keen on eliminating the anti-state elements like the
MQM. The MQM leader Altaf Hussain had in February 1991 itself sensed the army's
plans to split his party. This was because on March 2, 1991 he had expelled 19
members from the party and the ISI and MI were in touch with them. Altaf Hussain
even complained to the President that the ISI was conspiring to divide the
MQM.25 During May 1991 there were newspaper reports that a couple of prominent
MQM leaders were killed in Karachi by masked gunmen.26 The question is whether
these MQM leaders were shot by intelligence personnel or not ? Subsequently the
split formally took place on August 21 at a convention of the MQM (Haqiqi)
wherein Amir and Afaq expelled Altaf Hussain from their party.27
General Asif Nawaz Janjua's 'political assassination'
The untimely demise of General Asif Nawaz Janjua fuelled a fair amount of
controversy with First Information Reports being filed against Brigadier (retd)
Imtiaz the Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB). The issue gathered momentum
following his widow Nuzhat Janjua's formal complaint to then President Ghulam
Ishaq Khan about the unnatural nature of the death.28 She clearly stated her
strong suspicions that her husband had been poisoned because he had told her
about threats to his life. Also there were anonymous letters which sought to
caution the general about threats to his life. Apparently the General and the
the DIB had developed some serious differences in their inter-personal
relationship with each other.
There are essentially two arguments for and against the conspiracy theories
regarding the death. The general trend of arguments tend to support a conspiracy
theory involving the general's death. However it should also be noted that one
element goes against the conspiracy theory. This is a fact that General Zia-ul
Haq had eliminated the need for Lt Generals to undergo medical check-ups. Given
this consideration the state of the general's health remains a grey area and his
death though untimely could be attributed to a heart attack.
Nuzhat Janjua suspected that her late husband had been poisoned with arsenic
administered in a cup of tea served to him at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff Committee meeting. Some political commentators have also pointed out that
his widow must have made the formal complaint on the basis of some strong
grounds and that the bereaved lady would not make such an attempt for political
purposes. Interestingly the government posted a police picket at the general's
grave in order to ensure that the body was not exhumed for medical inspection.
There were rumours that the general's stomach was removed prior to the burial to
avoid detection of foul play.
The issue snowballed in April 1993 as the Army adopted an open-minded approach
to the possibility of foul play behind the general's death.29 The rationale for
discussing General Asif Nawaz Janjua's death in such great detail is only
because if the conspiracy theory is valid then the tacit role of intelligence
agencies is bound to assume relevance. To that extent this could well be one
more instance of intelligence agencies interfering in internal politics. The
incident illustrates how even an Army chief was vulnerable to the machinations
of the intelligence agencies despite the power that is associated with his
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto: October 1993-November 1996
The involvement of intelligence agencies in politics is clear from an
interesting development during the mid-point of Benazir's second tenure when the
Director IB (DIB) requested to quit service. In April 1994 the then DIB Mr Noor
Ellahi Leghari had formally requested Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to relieve
him from office. He had held the same appointment during Benazirs first Prime
The DIB had reportedly suggested that the appointment of the head of the
civilian intelligence agency merited some continuity of tenure regardless of the
change of political governments. Ellahi Leghari had suggested some institutional
mechanisms aimed at better working of the IB. Apparently the unholy nexus
between intelligence agency chiefs and political leaders in power has been
useful to hound opposition parties in disregard to all norms of decency, justice
and fairplay. To that extent the DIB request to the PM appears to set a healthy
The use of intelligence agencies in politics comes out clearly when Opposition
leader Nawaz Sharif released secretly recorded tapes of a conversation to gain
political advantage against Benazir. These tapes contained a conversation
between NWFP chief minister, Aftab Sherpao and top officials of Mehran Bank as
"conclusive evidence of horse-trading" in order to challenge the PML
government of Sabir Shah on December 1, 1994.
Pakistani political leaders have been making public statements from time to time
that the intelligence agencies are the real power centers in the country. Dr
Mubashir Hassan former Finance Minister and founder- secretary general of the
PPP speaking at a function to launch a political movement on May 3, 1996 said
"…at present the political system is the outcome of manipulation at the
top and the rulers had become helpless before the Intelligence agencies."31
Mehran Bank scandal
The Mehran Bank scandal clearly establishes the ISI involvement in Pakistani
politics during the 1990s. The incident exposes the abuse of public funds by the
military and intelligence agencies in order to manipulate political change in
the country. The bank proved to be a club for spies and politicians to
collaborate illegally with each other against other elected leaders. The
intelligence agencies prevailed upon politicians from different parties to trade
their loyalties for a price. The objective of the intelligence agencies was to
destabilise a hostile government and then put in place a 'friendly' regime. The
scandal comprises the entire gamut of financial crimes like fake loans,
kickbacks, illegal transactions and bribes and involved several high profile
names of politicians and a serving Army chief.32
The financial scandal came to light on March 24, 1994 when the MBL President
Younus Habib was arrested for siphoning off money from both Habib Bank and MBL.
According to media reports Younus Habib had paid five billion rupees to
prominent politicians from both the PML(N) and the PPP besides former Army chief
General Aslam Beg and other provincial politicians. The discrepancy was
discovered when the MBL could not produce the ISI deposited money in the MBL
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif added fuel to the fire on May 31, 1994 and
announced that President Farooq Leghari was involved in the scandal and had used
the bank to inflate prices in a land deal involving a Rs 15 million transaction.
The President confirmed that Younus Habib had facilitated the deal but denied
charge about any illegalities. The government then appointed two judicial
commissions to investigate the MBL scandal and the President filed libel charges
Air Chief Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan , who now practises politics wrote to the
Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court Sajjad Ali Shah that the ISI's
acceptance of money from private parties for political purposes damaged the
shining image of the armed forces. The Chief Justice then treated this as a
public interest litigation and started a hearing on the ISI role in domestic
politics. On June 16, 1997 General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg said that Lt General
Assad Durrani had received the money and spent Rs 60 million for funding certain
candidates and the remainder on other operations. He added that Durrani had kept
him informed about the developments.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif: March 1997-October 1999
Former Prime Minister Sharif used the ISI effectively to investigate financial
dealings abroad by various politicians and bureaucrats particularly those of
Benazir Bhutto. These investigations included the major contracts signed with
foreign companies and the kick-backs deposited in Swiss Bank accounts. To that
extent, the ISI as an intelligence organisation was misused considering the
existence of an investigative agency namely the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA)
precisely for such a purpose.
Sharif realised that intelligence services were a useful tool in governance and
reportedly sought to start a new intelligence wing in the FIA.34 Had this move
fructified there would have been a fourth intelligence agency in addition to the
existing three in the country. For a leader as the beneficiary of intelligence
inputs the multiplicity of agencies would only help in corraborating information
from various agencies to ensure its authenticity. Besides, the other advantage
in terms of political information would be that developments unreported by one
agency would be compensated by another one. However, the drawback of having
another additional agency would only create scope for unhealthy competition and
give rise to inter-agency rivalry between the IB, ISI, MI and the proposed FIA
During the months preceding the ouster of the Sharif regime the various
intelligence agencies worked against each other. The ISI and the MI were pitted
against one another as the DG ISI reports to the PM (but is under the COAS only
for organisational control) whereas the DGMI comes under the COAS. In the
process the political and military leaderships were at loggerheads with each
other and the competition between their respective intelligence agencies only
proved to be an extension of this clash of interests.
The Pakistani newspaper Nation on June 28, 1997 commenting on the ISI
involvement in the Mehran Bank scandal stated, "The case has refocussed
public attention on what is widely perceived to be a government within a
government—the intelligence agencies and their virtually autonomous role in
the political affairs of the country. The baneful influence of the intelligence
agencies has spread its malign shadow over the political destiny of the
According to an Awami National Party leader Ghulam Ahmad Bilour the ISI is the
real power in the country. He said that the ISI is not even in the control of
the President or the Prime Minister. The political leader said , " Neither
Mr Nawaz Sharif knows what they (ISI) are doing, nor did they keep Ms Benazir
Bhutto informed about their activities".35
A 105 page report on the lack of utility of Pakistan's intelligence community,
was prepared by intelligence officers and submitted to the DGI in October 1998
according to the News. The authors of the report, with long experience in
clandestine operations and technical collection., categorically stated that the
national intelligence apparatus has considerably lost its usefulness in
fulfilling the intelligence needs of the policy makers. They further added that
the entire intelligence network suffers from grave disconnection between the
military and civilian efforts, leading to what may be described as anarchy
The intertwining of politics and intelligence agencies results in political
instability with the latter attempting to destabilise governments through
various resources at their command. The intelligence agencies have served as a
tool for the military leadership to exercise their power over the political
leadership and thereby ensures the absence of democracy in the country.
Statements by two different political leaders, Mubashir Hassan and Ghulam Ahmed
Bilour with different party affiliations made at two different points in time
with a common theme about the role of intelligence agencies in domestic politics
cannot afford to be dismissed lightly. To that extent there is bound to be some
substance in their observations.
The rationale for the ISI involvement in domestic politics could be attributed
to three reasons (a) the need for the military to manipulate politics and
indirectly rule the country (b) to marginalise the civilian intelligence agency
which could become powerful with patronage from an elected government (c) the
absence of a genuine external threat to national security.
Whenever the ISI was controlled by a civilian government the MI reoriented
itself to political intelligence activity to keep the generals informed about
the relevant developments around the country. In the process the IB by design
and not default has been relegated to a 'runners up' or second slot in the
intelligence community with the first place reserved for the ISI. Also the MI
appears to be peripherally involved with an internal role, especially
counter-insurgency duties in Sind, which by its very nature would imply an
element of an involvement in provincial politics.
The theoretical framework conceived three models of intelligence agencies namely
(a) bureau of domestic intelligence (b) political police (c) independent
security state. The ISI would fall under the category of an independent security
state with the following characteristics. It lacks external controls and differs
from the political police because its goals are determined by agency officials
and are likely to differ from that of the political elite. Importantly, agency
officials rather than elected officials direct its operations.
The rationale for the ISI turning into an 'invisible government' has much to do
with Pakistan being a 'weak state' which depends on a strong state apparatus to
compensate for the problem of ideology. The two-nation theory advocating a
Muslim homeland as an ideology proved to be a failure for various reasons.
Besides, all the characteristics of a weak state are applicable to Pakistan even
in the 1990s.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif successfully used the ISI to collect evidence
of corruption by political rivals like Benazir Bhutto and other bureaucrats
involved in major contracts with foreign companies. The intelligence agencies
have played a frontline role in the struggle for power between the PPP and the
PML (N). So much so, the political leadership in the post-Zia period has not
really used these intelligence agencies for promoting good governance; it has
instead only used them in their internecine warfare which has contributed to
instability and led to a crisis of governance in the country.
The import of the ISI wielding power in the country has a strong bearing on
Islamabad's national security and foreign policy. It is a major decision
influencing element in the security and foreign policy formulation process and
tends to adopt an anti-India policy. For instance, a viable solution to improve
the cooperation and friendship in India-Pakistan ties is through the promotion
of trade and commerce between the two sides. However, Pakistani intelligence
personnel are used as an instrument to impede development of trade ties between
the two neighbours. It has been reported that Pakistani businessmen keen on
exploring opportunities for trade with India who visit the Indian High
Commission in Islamabad are discouraged from doing so. The Pakistani
intelligence personnel tend to harass these businessmen.
The other aspect of ISI involvement in domestic politics is its linkages with
Islamic fundamentalist groups which are anti-India in character. The ISI is
known to have close connections with the Harkat ul Ansar and the Lashkar-e-Toiba
which are extremely active in waging terrorist operations against the Indian
state and its people in Jammu and Kashmir for the past decade. This relationship
between the ISI and fundamentalists, fostered among other objectives on
anti-India interests, clearly characterises a close-minded approach to any
improvement in relations with India.
1. Peter Gill ' Policing Politics: Security Intelligence and the Liberal
Democratic State' (Frank Cass, London, 1994) p. 70.
2. Ibid., p. 60 -61.
3. Ibid., p. 6.
5. Ibid., p. 77.
6. Ibid., p. 70.
7. Ibid., p. 69.
8. President Iskandar Mirza's Memoirs (Exclusive) published in Newsline, June
1996, p. 136.
9. Mazhar Ali Khan, 'The Transgressers', Dawn, January 12, 1993, cited in John
Kaniyalil "ISI: The Master Manipulator", Strategic Analysis, November
1993, p. 993.
10. Mushahid Hussain and Akmal Hussain, 'Pakistan : Problems of Governance'
(Delhi: Konark Publishers, 1993) p. 73-4.
11. Stanley Wolpert, 'Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times' (Delhi:
Oxford University Press, 1993) p. 279.
12. Brigadier (retd) Syed A.I. Tirmazi, 'Profiles of Intelligence' (Lahore:
Combined Printers, 1995) p. 225.
13. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, 'If I Am Assassinated…' (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing
House, 1979) p 56.
14. Benazir Bhutto, 'Daughter of the East' (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988) p.
15. Brig (retd) Tirmazi, n. 12, p. 19.
16. Munir Ahmed writes that the ISI, MI and state Special Branch police all did
their best to thwart the PPP from winning the elections but failed to do so in
'Pakistan Toot Jayega' (Urdu) (Pakistan Will Break Up) (Lahore: Taklikat
Publishers, April 1996) p. 24.
17. Gill, n. 1, p. 53.
18. Ahmed, n. 16, p. 26.
19. POT Pakistan, p. 443-47, 1992.
20. Ahmed, n. 16, p. 37.
21. 'Secret September Operation to Dislodge Benazir Bhutto Revealed' in POT
Pakistan, vol. xix, no. 25, January 31 , 1991, p. 560-3.
23. 'Benazir Blames GHQ, Military Intelligence for Her Ouster' POT Pakistan,
vol. xviii, no. 167, August 10, 1990, p. 3198-93.
24. "Bugging Devices Found in MQM MNA's Hostel Rooms", POT Pakistan,
vol. xviii, no. 267, December 29, 1990, p. 5154-55; 'Growth of Pakistan's
Intelligence Agencies', POT Pakistan, vol. xix, p. 304, and "IB Official
Suspended for Bugging MNA's Hostel", POT Pakistan, vol. xix, no. 2, January
2, 1991, p. 29.
25. "Altaf Alleges New Plan to Eliminate MQM From Political Scene' POT
Pakistan, May 22, 1992, vol. xx, no 119, p. 2553; also see n. 18, p. 205.
26. Ibid., "MQM Activist Killed After Being Kidnapped", p. 2554.
27. Ahmed n 16, p. 210.
28. It was reported that General Janjua had serious differences with President
Ishaq Khan a week before his death after being questioned over a raid conducted
by an army team to arrest a district and sessions judge for allegedly accepting
illegal gratification in Karachi in ' President's Differences With Asif Nawaz'
POT Pakistan, vol. xxi, no. 14, January 16, 1993, p. 280.
29. "Asif Nawaz Was Murdered, Says General's Wife" POT Pakistan, vol.
xxi, no. 84, April 13, 1993, pp. 1754-5.
30. "IB Chief Wants to be Relieved of Appointment" POT Pakistan, vol.
xii, no. 87, April 18, 1994, p. 864.
31. P0T Pakistan, vol. xxiv, no. 107, May 7, 1996, p. 1026.
32. Zakir Siddiqui, "The Mehran Bank Scam" April 1994, Newsline, pp.
33. "Mehran Bank Deals Raise Many Awkward Questions" and
"Comments: Mehran Bank Scandal" April 28, 1994, vol. xxii, no. 96, pp.
941-2 and 943-4.
34. "FIA To Have Intelligence Wing Soon" POT Pakistan, August 31,
1999, p. 3160.
35. "ISI is Real Power in Country Says ANP leader" POT Pakistan, vol.
xxvi, no. 280, November 16, 1998, p. 3622.
36. "Intelligence Gathering Systems Need to be Redefined" POT
Pakistan, vol. xxvi, no. 255, October 22, 1998, p. 3303.
People not familiar with the history of Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan
might be suprised to find how much it has been influenced by the CIA. In many
ways, the terrorist organizations spawned from this history are the very ones
causing all the trouble today. Here is some more background on all this.
Pakistan’s sinister Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) remains the key to
providing accurate information to the US-led alliance in its war against Osama
bin Laden and his Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. Known as Pakistan’s ‘secret
army’ and ‘invisible government’, its shadowy past is linked to political
assassinations and the smuggling of narcotics as well as nuclear and missile
The ISI also openly backs the Taliban and fuels the 12-year-old insurgency in
northern India’s disputed Kashmir province by ‘sponsoring’ Muslim militant
groups and ministering its policy of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ that so
effectively drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan and led to their political
The goings on behind the ISI’s nondescript headquarters, located behind high
walls on Khayban-e-Suharwady avenue in the heart of the capital Islamabad and
its operational offices in the adjoining garrison town of Rawalpindi, have
dominated Pakistan’s domestic, nuclear and foreign policies – especially
those relating to Afghanistan – for over two decades.
The ISI chief, Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed, who was visiting Washington when New York
and the Pentagon were attacked, agreed to share desperately needed information
about the Taliban with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other US
security officials. The CIA has well-established links with the ISI, having
trained it in the 1980s to ‘run’ Afghan mujahideen (holy Muslim warriors),
Islamic fundamentalists from Pakistan as well as Arab volunteers by providing
them with arms and logistic support to evict the Soviet occupation of Kabul.
The ISI is presently the ‘eyes and ears’ of the US-led covert action to
seize Bin Laden from the Taliban, since hundreds of its agents and their Pathan
‘assets’ continue to operate across Afghanistan. Its influence with the
Taliban can be gauged from the inclusion of Gen Ahmed in the Pakistani military
and diplomatic delegation to the militia’s religious capital, Kandhar, in
southern Afghanistan in an attempt to defuse the looming military crisis. The
Pakistani delegation appealed to the Taliban, albeit in vain, to hand over Bin
Laden to the US, which holds him responsible for the 11 September attacks on the
World Trade Center and Washington in which nearly 7000 people are feared to have
Founded soon after independence in 1948 to collect intelligence in
Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), the ISI was
modelled on Savak, the Iranian security agency, and like Savak was trained by
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the SDECE, France’s external
intelligence service. The 1979 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan led the CIA,
smarting from its retreat from Vietnam, into enhancing the ISI's covert action
capabilities by running mujahideen resistance groups against the Soviets in
Former Pakistani president General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, who was ultimately
assassinated along with his ISI chief, expanded the agency’s internal charter
by tasking it with collecting information on local religious and political
groups opposed to his military regime. Under Gen Zia the ISI’s Internal
Political Division reportedly assassinated Shah Nawaz Bhutto, one of the two
brothers of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, by poisoning him on
the French Riviera in 1985. The aim was to intimidate Miss Bhutto into not
returning to Pakistan to direct the multi-party movement for the restoration of
democracy, but Miss Bhutto refused to be cowed down and returned home, only to
be toppled by the ISI soon after becoming prime minister in 1988.
The ISI is believed to have recently formed a secret task force under Gen Ahmed
comprising Interior Minister Lt Gen (retd) Moinuddin Haider and Deputy Chief of
Army Staff Lt Gen Muzaffar Usmani to ‘destroy’ major political parties and
the separatist Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) in southern Sindh province.
This task force has reportedly encouraged not only religious Islamic
organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JuI)
but also sectarian organisations such as the fundamentalist Sipah Sahaba and the
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (which are closely linked to the Taliban and Bin Laden) to
extend their activities to Sindh. These organisations are believed to have
‘slipped the ISI collar’ and begun recruiting unemployed Sindhi rural youth
for the Taliban, posing a threat to Gen Musharraf's co-operation with Washington
by formenting jihad against the West.
After the ignominious Soviet withdrawal from Kabul in 1989 the ISI, determined
to achieve its aim of extending Pakistan's ‘strategic depth’ and creating an
Islamic Caliphate by controlling Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics,
began sponsoring a little-known Pathan student movement in Kandhar that emerged
as the Taliban. The ISI used funds from Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's federal
government and from overseas Islamic remittances to enrol graduates from
thousands of madrassahs (Muslim seminaries) across Pakistan to bolster the
Taliban (Islamic students), who were led by the reclusive Mullah Muhammad Omar.
Thereafter, through a ruthless combination of bribing Afghanistan’s ruling
tribal coalition (which was riven with internecine rivalry), guerrilla tactics
and military support the ISI installed the Taliban regime in Kabul in 1996. It
then helped to extend its control over 95 per cent of the war-torn country and
bolster its military capabilities. The ISI is believed to have posted additional
operatives in Afghanistan just before the 11 September attacks in the US.
Along with Osama bin Laden, intelligence sources say a number of other infamous
names emerged from the 1980s ISI-CIA collaboration in Afghanistan. These
included Mir Aimal Kansi, who assassinated two CIA officers outside their office
in Langley, Virginia, in 1993, Ramzi Yousef and his accomplices involved in the
New York World Trade Center bombing five years later as well as a host of
powerful international narcotics smugglers.
Opium cultivation and heroin production in Pakistan’s northern tribal belt and
neighbouring Afghanistan was also a vital offshoot of the ISI-CIA co-operation.
It succeeded not only in turning Soviet troops into addicts, but also in
boosting heroin sales in Europe and the US through an elaborate web of
well-documented deceptions, transport networks, couriers and payoffs. This, in
turn, offset the cost of the decade-long anti-Soviet ‘unholy war’ in
"The heroin dollars contributed largely to bolstering the Pakistani
economy, its nuclear programme and enabled the ISI to sponsor its covert
operations in Afghanistan and northern India's disputed Kashmir state,"
according to an Indian intelligence officer. In the 1970s, the ISI had
established a division to procure military nuclear and missile technology from
abroad, particularly from China and North Korea. They also smuggled in critical
nuclear components and know-how from Europe – activities known to the US but
ones it chose to turn a blind eye to as Washington’s objective of
‘humiliating’ the Soviet bear remained incomplete.
A Director General, always an army officer of the rank of lieutenant general,
heads the ISI, which is controlled by Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence and
reports directly to the chief of army staff. As the current ISI chief, Gen Ahmed
is assisted by three major generals heading the agency’s political, external
and administrative divisions, which are divided broadly into eight sections:
* Joint Intelligence North: responsible for the Taliban in Afghanistan and the
Kashmir insurgency. This section controls the Army of Islam that comprises Osama
bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda group and Kashmiri militant groups like the
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (banned by the US last week), Lashkar-e-Toiba, Al Badr and
Jaissh-e-Mohammad. Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz, presently commanding the Lahore Corps
and a former ISI officer, reportedly heads the Army of Islam, which also
controls all opium cultivation and heroin refining and smuggling from Pakistani
and Afghan territory
* Joint Intelligence Bureau: responsible for open sources and human intelligence
collection locally and abroad
* Joint Counter-Intelligence Bureau: tasked with counter-intelligence activities
internally and abroad
* Joint Signals Intelligence Bureau: in-charge of all communications
* Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous: responsible for covert actions abroad,
particularly those related to the clandestine procurement of nuclear and missile
* Joint Intelligence X: looks after administration and accounts
* Joint Intelligence Technical: collects all technical intelligence other than
communications intelligence for research and development of equipment
* The Special Wing: runs the Defence Services Intelligence Academy and liaises
with foreign intelligence and security agencies.
"The concern now for General Musharraf is whether the ISI will remain loyal
to him and provide the US with credible information or continue to pursue its
aims of ensuing the Taliban’s continuance in Kabul," said one
intelligence officer. The US, he added, will pull out of the region once its
objectives have been achieved, but Afghanistan, with its incessant and seemingly
irresolute turmoil, will remain Pakistan’s neighbour for good.
INTER-SERVICES INTELLIGENCE (ISI)
by B. Raman
The intelligence community of Pakistan, which was once described by the
"Frontier Post" of Peshawar (May 18,1994) as its "invisible
government" and by the "Dawn" of Karachi (April 25,1994) as
"our secret godfathers" consists of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and
the ISI. While the IB comes under the Interior Minister, the ISI is part of the
Ministry of Defence (MOD). Each wing of the Armed Forces has also its own
intelligence directorate for tactical MI.
The IB is the oldest dating from Pakistan's creation in 1947. It was formed by
the division of the pre-partition IB of British India. Its unsatisfactory
military intelligence (MI) performance in the first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48 over
Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) led to the decision in 1948 to create the ISI,
manned by officers from the three Services, to specialise in the collection,
analysis and assessment of external intelligence, military and non-military,
with the main focus on India.
Initially, the ISI had no role in the collection of internal political
intelligence except in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas
(NA--Gilgit and Baltistan). Ayub Khan, suspecting the loyalty and objectivity of
the Bengali police officers in the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) of the
IB in Dacca, the capital of the then East Pakistan, entrusted the ISI with the
responsibility for the collection of internal political intelligence in East
Similarly, Z.A.Bhutto, when faced with a revolt by Balochi nationalists in
Balochistan after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, suspected the loyalty of
the Balochi police officers of the SIB in Quetta and made the military officers
of the ISI responsible for internal intelligence in Balochistan.
Zia-ul-Haq expanded the internal intelligence responsibilities of the ISI by
making it responsible not only for the collection of intelligence about the
activities of the Sindhi nationalist elements in Sindh and for monitoring the
activities of Shia organisations all over the country after the success of the
Iranian Revolution in 1979, but also for keeping surveillance on the leaders of
the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto and its allies which had
started the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in the early 1980s.
The ISI's Internal Political Division had Shah Nawaz Bhutto, one of the two
brothers of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, assassinated through poisoning in the French
Riviera in the middle of 1985, in an attempt to intimidate her into not
returning to Pakistan for directing the movement against Zia, but she refused to
be intimidated and returned to Pakistan.
Even in the 1950s, Ayub Khan had created in the ISI a Covert Action Division for
assisting the insurgents in India's North-East and its role was expanded in the
late 1960s to assist the Sikh Home Rule Movement of London-based Charan Singh
Panchi, which was subsequently transformed into the so-called Khalistan
Movement, headed by Jagjit Singh Chauhan. A myriad organisations operating
amongst the members of the Sikh diaspora in Europe, the US and Canada joined the
movement at the instigation and with the assistance of the ISI.
During the Nixon Administration in the US, when Dr.Henry Kissinger was the
National Security Adviser, the intelligence community of the US and the ISI
worked in tandem in guiding and assisting the so-called Khalistan movement in
the Punjab. The visits of prominent Sikh Home Rule personalities to the US
before the Bangladesh Liberation War in December, 1971, to counter Indian
allegations of violations of the human rights of the Bengalis of East Pakistan
through counter-allegations of violations of the human rights of the Sikhs in
Punjab were jointly orchestrated by the ISI, the US intelligence and some
officials of the US National Security Council (NSC) Secretariat, then headed by
This covert colloboration between the ISI and the US intelligence community was
also directed at discrediting Mrs.Indira Gandhi's international stature by
spreading disinformation about alleged naval base facilities granted by her to
the USSR in Vizag and the Andaman & Nicobar, the alleged attachment of KGB
advisers to the then Lt.Gen.Sunderji during Operation Bluestar in the Golden
Temple in Amritsar in June, 1984, and so on. This collaboration petered out
after her assassination in October,1984.
The Afghan war of the 1980s saw the enhancement of the covert action
capabilities of the ISI by the CIA. A number of officers from the ISI's Covert
Action Division received training in the US and many covert action experts of
the CIA were attached to the ISI to guide it in its operations against the
Soviet troops by using the Afghan Mujahideen, Islamic fundamentalists of
Pakistan and Arab volunteers. Osama bin Laden, Mir Aimal Kansi, who assassinated
two CIA officers outside their office in Langley, US, in 1993, Ramzi Yousef and
his accomplices involved in the New York World Trade Centre explosion in
February, 1993, the leaders of the Muslim separatist movement in the southern
Philippines and even many of the narcotics smugglers of Pakistan were the
products of the ISI-CIA collaboration in Afghanistan.
The encouragement of opium cultivation and heroin production and smuggling was
also an offshoot of this co-operation. The CIA, through the ISI, promoted the
smuggling of heroin into Afghanistan in order to make the Soviet troops heroin
addicts. Once the Soviet troops were withdrawn in 1988, these heroin smugglers
started smuggling the drugs to the West, with the complicity of the ISI. The
heroin dollars have largely contributed to preventing the Pakistani economy from
collapsing and enabling the ISI to divert the jehadi hordes from Afghanistan to
J & K after 1989 and keeping them well motivated and well-equipped.
Even before India's Pokhran I nuclear test of 1974, the ISI had set up a
division for the clandestine procurement of military nuclear technology from
abroad and, subsequently, for the clandestine purchase and shipment of missiles
and missile technology from China and North Korea. This division, which was
funded partly by donations from Saudi Arabia and Libya, partly by concealed
allocations in Pakistan's State budget and partly by heroin dollars, was
instrumental in helping Pakistan achieve a military nuclear and delivery
capability despite its lack of adequate human resources with the required
Thus, the ISI, which was originally started as essentially an agency for the
collection of external intelligence, has developed into an agency adept in
covert actions and clandestine procurement of denied technologies as well.
The IB, which was patterned after the IB of British India, used to be a largely
police organisation, but the post of Director-General (DG), IB, is no longer
tenable only by police officers as it was in the past. Serving and retired
military officers are being appointed in increasing numbers to senior posts in
the IB, including to the post of DG.
In recent years, there has been a controversy in Pakistan as to who really
controls the ISI and when was its internal Political Division set up. Testifying
before the Supreme Court on June 16,1997, in a petition filed by Air Marshal (retd)
Asghar Khan, former chief of the Pakistan Air Force, challenging the legality of
the ISI's Political Division accepting a donation of Rs.140 million from a bank
for use against PPP candidates during elections, Gen. (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg,
former Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), claimed that though the ISI was manned by
serving army officers and was part of the MOD, it reported to the Prime Minister
and not to the COAS and that its internal Political Division was actually set up
by the late Z.A.Bhutto in 1975.
Many Pakistani analysts have challenged this and said that the ISI, though de
jure under the Prime Minister, had always been controlled de facto by the COAS
and that its internal Political Division had been in existence at least since
the days of Ayub Khan, if not earlier.
The ISI is always headed by an Army officer of the rank of Lt.Gen., who is
designated as the Director-General (DG). The present DG is Lt.Gen.Mahmood Ahmed.
He is assisted by three Deputy Directors-General (DDGs), designated as DDG
(Political), DDG-I (External) and DDG-II (Administration). It is divided into
the following Divisions:
* The Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB)---Responsible for all Open Sources
Intelligence (OSINT) and Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collection, inside Pakistan
as well as abroad.
* The Joint Counter-Intelligence (CI) Bureau: Responsible for CI inside Pakistan
as well as abroad.
* The Joint Signals Intelligence Bureau (JSIB): Responsible for all
communications intelligence inside Pakistan and abroad.
* Joint Intelligence North (JIN): Responsible for the proxy war in Jammu &
Kashmir and the control of Afghanistan through the Taliban. Controls the Army of
Islam, consisting of organisations such as Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, the
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Al Badr and Maulana Masood
Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). Lt.Gen.Mohammad Aziz, presently a Corps
Commander at Lahore, is the clandestine Chief of Staff of the Army of Islam. It
also controls all opium cultivation and heroin refining and smuggling from
Pakistani and Afghan territory.
* Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous (JIM): Responsible for covert actions in
other parts of the world and for the clandestine procurement of nuclear and
missile technologies. Maj Gen (retd) Sultan Habib, an operative of this
Division, who had distinguished himself in the clandestine procurement and theft
of nuclear material while posted as the Defence Attache in the Pakistani Embassy
in Moscow from 1991 to 93, with concurrent accreditation to the Central Asian
Republics (CARs), Poland and Czechoslovakia, has recently been posted as
Ambassador to North Korea to oversee the clandestine nuclear and missile
co-operation between North Korea and Pakistan. After completing his tenure in
Moscow, he had co-ordinated the clandestine shipping of missiles from North
Korea, the training of Pakistani experts in the missile production and testing
facilities of North Korea and the training of North Korean scientists in the
nuclear establishments of Pakistan through Capt. (retd) Shafquat Cheema, Third
Secretary and acting head of mission, in the Pakistani Embassy in North Korea,
from 1992 to 96. Before Maj.Gen. Sultan Habib's transfer to ISI headquarters
from Moscow, the North Korean missile and nuclear co-operation project was
handled by Maj.Gen.Shujjat from the Baluch Regiment, who worked in the
clandestine procurement division of the ISI for five years. On Capt.Cheema's
return to headquarters in 1996, the ISI discovered that in addition to acting as
the liaison officer of the ISI with the nuclear and missile establishments in
North Korea, he was also earning money from the Iranian and the Iraqi
intelligence by helping them in their clandestine nuclear and missile technology
and material procurement not only from North Korea, but also from Russia and the
CARs. On coming to know of the ISI enquiry into his clandestine assistance to
Iran and Iraq, he fled to Xinjiang and sought political asylum there, but the
Chinese arrested him and handed him over to the ISI. What happened to him
subsequently is not known. Capt.Cheema initially got into the ISI and got
himself posted to the Pakistani Embassy in North Korea with the help of
Col.(retd) Ghulam Sarwar Cheema of the PPP.
* Joint Intelligence X (JIX): Responsible for administration and accounts.
* Joint Intelligence Technical (JIT): Responsible for the collection of all
Technical Intelligence (TECHINT) other than communications intelligence and for
research and development in gadgetry.
* The Special Wing: Responsible for all intelligence training in the Armed
Forces in the Defence Services Intelligence Academy and for liaison with foreign
intelligence and security agencies.
Since 1948, there have been three instances when the DG,ISI, was at daggers
drawn with the COAS. The first instance was during the first tenure of
Mrs.Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister (1988 to 1990). To reduce the powers of the
ISI, to re-organise the intelligence community and to enhance the powers of the
police officers in the IB, she discontinued the practice of appointing a serving
Lt.Gen, recommended by the COAS, as the DG, ISI, and, instead appointed Maj.Gen.
(retd) Shamsur Rahman Kallue, a retired officer close to her father, as the DG
in replacement of Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul in 1989 and entrusted him with the task of
winding up the internal intelligence collection role of the ISI and
civilianising the IB and the ISI. Writing in the "Nation" of July
31,1997, Brig.A.R.Siddiqui, who had served as the Press Relations Officer in the
army headquarters in the 1970s, said that this action of hers marked the
beginning of her trouble with Gen.Beg, the then COAS, which ultimately led to
her dismissal in August,1990. Gen.Beg made Maj.Gen.Kallue persona non grata (PNG),
stopped inviting him to the Corps Commanders conferences and transferred the
responsibility for the proxy war in J & K and for assisting the Sikh
extremists in the Punjab from the ISI to the Army intelligence directorate
working under the Chief of the General Staff (CGS).
The second instance was during the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif (1990-93), who
appointed as the DG,ISI, Lt.Gen.Javed Nasir, a fundamentalist Kashmiri officer,
though he was not recommended by the COAS for the post. Lt.Gen.Asif Nawaz Janjua,
the then COAS, made Lt.Gen.Nasir PNG and stopped inviting him to the Corps
Commanders conferences. Despite this, Lt.Gen.Janjua returned to the ISI the
responsibility for the proxy war in J & K and for assisting the Sikh
During her second tenure (1993-96), Mrs. Bhutto avoided any conflict with
Gen.Abdul Waheed Kakkar and Gen. Jehangir Karamat, the Chiefs of the Army Staff
in succession, on the appointment of the DG,ISI. Her action in transferring part
of the responsibility for the operations in Afghanistan, including the creation
and the handling of the Taliban, from the ISI to the Interior Ministry headed by
Maj.Gen. (retd) Nasirullah Babar, who handled Afghan operations in the ISI
during the tenure of her father, did not create any friction with the army since
she had ordered that Lt.Gen. Pervez Musharraf, then Director-General of Military
Operations, should be closely associated by Maj.Gen.Babar in the Afghan
However, sections of the ISI, close to Farooq Leghari, the then President of
Pakistan, had Murtaza Bhutto, the surviving brother of Mrs.Benazir, assassinated
outside his house in Karachi in September,1996, with the complicity of some
local police officers and started a disinformation campaign in the media blaming
her and her husband, Asif Zirdari, for the murder. This campaign paved the way
for her dismissal by Leghari in November,1996.
The third instance was during the second tenure of Nawaz Sharif (1997-99) when
his action in appointing Lt.Gen. Ziauddin, an engineer, as the DG,ISI,
over-riding the objection of Gen.Musharraf led to the first friction between the
two. Gen.Musharraf transferred Lt.Gen.Mohammad Aziz, the then DDG,ISI, on his
promotion as Lt.Gen. to the GHQ as the CGS and transferred the entire Joint
Intelligence North (JIN), responsible for covert actions in India and
Afghanistan to the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) to be
supervised by Lt.Gen.Aziz. It is believed that the JIN continues to function
under the DGMI even after the appointment of Lt.Gen.Mahmood Ahmed as the DG, ISI,
after the overthrow of Sharif on October 12,1999. Gen.Musharraf, as the COAS,
made Lt.Gen.Ziauddin PNG and stopped inviting him to the Corps Commanders'
conferences. He kept Lt.Gen.Ziauddin totally out of the picture in the planning
and implementation of the Kargil operations. After the Kargil war, Nawaz Sharif
had sent Lt.Gen.Ziauddin to Washington on a secret visit to inform the Clinton
Administration officials of his concerns over the continued loyalty of
Gen.Musharraf. After his return from the US, Lt.Gen.Ziauddin went to Kandahar,
as ordered by Sharif, to pressurise Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the
Taliban, to stop assisting the anti-Shia Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and to co-operate
with the US in the arrest and deportation of bin Laden. On coming to know of
this, Gen. Musharraf sent Lt.Gen.Aziz to Kandahar to tell the Amir that he
should not carry out the instructions of Lt.Gen.Ziauddin and that he should
follow only his (Lt.Gen.Aziz's) instructions.
These instances would show that whenever an elected leadership was in power, the
COAS saw to it that the elected Prime Minister did not have effective control
over the ISI and that the ISI was marginalised if its head showed any loyalty to
the elected Prime Minister.
In their efforts to maintain law and order in Pakistan and weaken nationalist
and religious elements and political parties disliked by the army, the ISI and
the army followed a policy of divide and rule. After the success of the Islamic
Revolution in Iran in 1979, to keep the Shias of Pakistan under control, the ISI
encouraged the formation of ant-Shia Sunni extremist organisations such as the
Sipah Sahaba . When the Shias of Gilgit rose in revolt in 1988, Musharraf used
bin Laden and his tribal hordes from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and
the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to suppress them brutally. When
the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM---now called the Muttahida Qaumi Movement) of
Altaf Hussain rose in revolt in the late 1980s in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur
in Sindh, the ISI armed sections of the Sindhi nationalist elements to kill the
Mohajirs. It then created a split between Mohajirs of Uttar Pradesh origin (in
Altaf Hussain's MQM) and those of Bihar origin in the splinter anti-Altaf
Hussain group called MQM (Haquiqi--meaning real). In Altaf Hussain's MQM itself,
the ISI unsuccessfully tried to create a wedge between the Sunni and Shia
migrants from Uttar Pradesh.
Having failed in his efforts to weaken the PPP by taking advantage of the exile
of Mrs.Benazir and faced with growing unity of action between Altaf Hussain's
MQM and sections of Sindhi nationalist elements, Musharraf has constituted a
secret task force in the ISI headed by Lt.Gen.Mahmood Ahmed, the DG, and
consisting of Lt.Gen.(retd) Moinuddin Haider, Interior Minister, and
Lt.Gen.Muzaffar Usmani, Deputy Chief of the Army Staff, to break the PPP, the
MQM and the Sindhi nationalists.
This task force has encouraged not only religious political organisations such
as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI)
of Maulana Fazlur Rahman etc, but also sectarian organisations such as the Sipah
Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi of Riaz Basra, living under the protection of
the Taliban and bin Laden in Kandahar in Afghanistan, to extend their activities
These organisations have now practically got out of the control of the ISI.
Instead of attacking the PPP, the MQM and the Sindhi nationalists and bringing
them to heel as Musharraf had hoped they would, they have taken their anti-Shia
jehad to Sindh and have been recruiting a large number of unemployed Sindhi
rural youth for service with the Taliban. Sindh, which was known for its Sufi
traditions of religious tolerance, has seen under Musharraf a resurgence of the
street power of the JEI and the JUI, which had been practically driven out of
the province in the 1980s, by the PPP, the MQM and the Sindhi nationalists, and
has seen in recent months anti-Shia massacres of the kind used by Musharraf in
Gilgit in 1988. Over 200 Shias have been gunned down, including 30 doctors of
Karachi, and the latest victims of the sectarian Frankenstein let loose by
Musharraf in Sindh have been Shaukat Mirza, the Managing Director of Pakistan
State Oil, and Syed Zafar Hussain Zaidi, a Director in the Research Laboratories
of the Ministry of Defence, located in Karachi, who were gunned down on July 28
and 30,2001, respectively. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for
both these assassinations.
As a result of the policy of divide and rule followed in Sindh by the ISI under
Musharraf, one is seeing in Pakistan for the first time sectarian violence
inside the Sunni community between the Sunnis of the Deobandi faith belonging to
the Sipah Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sunnis of the more tolerant
Barelvi faith belonging to the Sunni Tehrik formed in the early 1990s to counter
the growing Wahabi influence on Islam in Pakistan and the Almi Tanzeem Ahle
Sunnat formed in 1998 by Pir Afzal Qadri of Mararian Sharif in Gujrat, Punjab,
to counter the activities of the Deobandi Army of Islam headed by
Lt.Gen.Mohammed Aziz, Corps Commander, Lahore.
The Tanzeem has been criticising not only the Army of Islam for injecting what
it considers the Wahabi poison into the Pakistan society, but also the army of
the State headed by Musharraf for misleading the Sunni youth into joining the
jehad against the Indian army in J & K and getting killed there in order to
avoid the Pakistani army officers getting killed in the jehad for achieving its
strategic objective. The ISI, which is afraid of a direct confrontation with the
Barelvi organisations, has been inciting the Sipah Sahaba and the
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to counter their activities .
This has led to frequent armed clashes between rival Sunni groups in Sindh, the
most sensational of the incidents being the gunning down of Maulana Salim Qadri
of the Sunni Tehrik and five of his followers in Karachi on May, 18,2001, by the
Sipah Sahaba, which led to a major break-down of law and order in certain areas
of Karachi for some days.
Musharraf, the commando, believes in achieving his objective by hook or by crook
without worrying about the means used. In his anxiety to bring Sindh under
control and to weaken the PPP, the MQM and the Sindhi nationalists, he has,
through the ISI, created new Frankensteins which might one day lead to the
Talibanisation of Sindh, a province always known for its sufi traditions of
religious tolerance and for its empathy with India.
Musharraf is under pressure from sections of senior army officers concerned over
these developments to suppress the Sipah Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He
and Lt.Gen.Haider have been making the pretence of planning to do so. It is to
be seen whether they really would and, even if they did, whether they would or
could effectively enforce the ban on them.
In India, there is a point of view in some circles that the only way of
effectively countering the ISI activities against India is to have an Indian
version of the ISI, with extensive powers for clandestine intelligence
collection, technology procurement and covert actions and that the proposed
Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) should be patterned after Pakistan's ISI
rather than after the DIA of the US and the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) of
the UK, which are essentially agencies for the analysis and assessment of
military intelligence in a holistic manner, with powers for clandestine
collection only during times of war or when deployed in areas of conflict and
with no powers for covert action.
The principle of civilian primacy in the intelligence community is widely
accepted in all successful democracies and the discarding of this principle in
Pakistan sowed the seeds for the present state of affairs there. In our anxiety
for quick results against the ISI, we should not sacrifice time-tested
principles as to how intelligence agencies should function in a democratic
In the 1970s,Indian policy-makers wisely decided that the Indian intelligence
should not get involved in clandestine procurement of denied technologies since
the exposure of any such procurement could damage the credibility and
trustworthiness of the Indian scientific and technological community in the eyes
of other countries.
This is what has happened to Pakistan. Its intelligence community did some
spectacular work in clandestine procurement and theft of technologies abroad.
But, once the details of this network were exposed, post-graduate students of
Pakistan in scientific subjects, its academics, research scholars and scientists
are looked upon with suspicion in Western countries and find it difficult to
enter universities and research laboratories for higher studies and research and
get jobs in establishments dealing in sensitive technologies and are less
frequently invited to seminars etc than in the past. In its anxiety to catch up
with India in the short term, Pakistan has damaged its long-term potential in
science and technology.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,
and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pakistan's secret service,
the ISI, has traditionally been very active in Afghanistan. The ISI has been
the Pakistani establishment's instrument for controlling the Jihadists and
shaping Pakistani foreign policy objectives in the region.
The town of Mazar-e-Sharif marks the northern most end of Afghanistan. It
is a bare 35 miles south of Amu Darya, the river that separates Afghanistan
from Central Asia. The town was the last staging post for retereating Soviet
forces in the 1980s. Today, many consider this town to be the jump off point
for Islamist warriors seeking battle in the Central Asian Republics.
Traditionally, the inhabitants of Mazar-e-Sharif were Tajiks, Uzbeks and
Turkmens. Ever since the summer of 1997, however, the town has seen a large
increase in the number of black turbans, worn by men of the fanatic Taliban.
Less prominent are the faceless operatives of Pakistan's Inter Services
Intelligence (ISI) who work out of a clutch of offices spread across the town.
They monitor movements in and out of the region, run agents some of who go all
the way to Russia, liaise with the Jihadi groups operating in the Central
Asian republics and keep a sharp eye open for the slightest signs of local
revolt. The ISI, has in fact, been maintaining a rather large presence
in this town ever since 1997 when it was captured by the Taliban. The town was
held by one of the Taliban's most intractable opponents, General Abdul Rashid
Dostum, whom the ISI wanted eliminated at all costs. But Dostum escaped. Not
so lucky were the first batch of ISI officers who were supervising the battle
for Mazar-e-Sharif. A military helicopter carrying four ISI operatives crashed
near the town, killing all aboard. It is believed that among those killed in
the crash was Azad Beg, the brother of former Pakistan army chief, General
Mirza Aslam Beg.
The ISI's presence in Afghanistan has not diminished since the days of the
Taliban offensives. It maintains major establishments at Kabul and Kandahar,
apart from Mazar-e-eSharif. Besides, it has dozens of field offices and a
network of agents. It has to keep watch not just at the northern borders but
at the fighting north of Kabul, against the warriors loyal to the late Ahmed
Shah Massoud, and in central Afghanistan where fighters of the Wahdat e Islami
continue to resist the Taliban. The Pakistan establishment is equally wary of
Iran and its Shia supporters in Afghanistan and the ISI is therefore tasked to
watch the Iran border closely as well. Another critical ISI activity in this
country is maintaining contacts with friendly Jihadi groups who have bases and
run training camps within Afghanistan. The ISI and the Pakistani army too have
their own training camps and safe havens to look after. Most of these camps
are in the districts of Kunar, Nangarhar and Pakhtia that border Pakistan.
Some camps, including one run by Osama's Al Qaeeda, are reported to be located
in the northern province of Kunduz. These appear to be oriented towards the
Islamist battle in Central Asia. The spread of the ISI in Afghanistan
consequently is vast and some estimate that the covert Pakistani network in
that country could well run into the thousands.
All this is one reason why the United States is counting on Pakistan being
its strategic partner in the impending war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
The enormous "intelligence" assets Pakistan is supposed to have on
international terrorist Osama bin Laden and his protectors, the Taliban, is
clearly coveted by the US intelligence and military establishments. The first
kind of help the Americans have sought is intelligence or informed information
about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, his immediate security, the likely points
of resistance within Afghanistan, and the strength, disposition and location
of Taliban fighters. All this information is far more critical than the need
for a physical staging post or permission to use Pakistani air space. The
million dollar question is how much and how reliably will the ISI assist the
Americans? For, the ISI like any other large organisation has an ethos of its
own, has its own dynamics and compulsions - and a US military strike against
the world's biggest symbols of militant jihad cannot but be a source of
profound conflict within the ISI.
From Combat to Politics
The ISI despite being essentially a military organisation came to acquire a
different ethos from that of the Pakistani army. The organisation's
founder,Maj Gen. R Cawthorne, was an Australian born British Army officer who
had chosen to remain behind with the Pakistani army after independence. He
formed the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence as a pure military
organisation in 1948 during the time of first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir.
Not only was Cawthorne looking for more operational intelligence but he and
other British officers of the newly formed Pakistani Army also wanted to keep
an eye at what the Pakistani officers and men were up to. General Ayub Khan,
after grabbing power in 1958, added a political function to the ISI's tasks.
The ISI was to track politicians and at times to make sure they co-operated.
In 1970 and 1971, the ISI was used to crush the Bengali resistance movement in
the country's eastern wing. Prominent Bengali leaders were assassinated and
others killed in bomb blasts. West Pakistan politicians too were fearful of
the ISI, which by now had become a super intelligence agency controlled by the
army. After the disastrous 1971 war, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first
civilian leader in many years, tried to tame the ISI but failed and when
General Zia ul Haq took over, the ISI was back with a vengeance. The ISI,
under Zia, grew into a well oiled international organisation, benefiting
enormously from the Afghan war that saw billions of dollars worth arms and aid
to flow into the region. The ISI was tasked to divert a major part of the arms
and money and use it for Pakistan's clandestine operations in the Indian
Punjab and in building the country's nuclear capabilities. Access to
clandestine sources of funds and considerable influence over the bureaucracy
and political class ensured that the ISI became a power centre on its own
right, even though in paper it remained nothing but another directorate of the
Neither Afghanistan nor Kashmir could deflect the ISI's focus away from
internal politics. For, this was one major source of influence. In the late
1980s, when the Pakistani army led by General Mirza Aslam Beg, agreed to the
institution of democracy in Pakistan, the idea never was to allow civilian
leaders unfettered access to power. The country nuclear power program, its
covert ops, its military and foreign affairs were out of bounds for civilians.
One of the reasons for Benazir's dismissal during her first stint in power was
her ham handed attempts to influence key appointments in the Army. Her second
dismissal was the direct result of her attempts to take on the ISI. She
mistakenly presumed, like her unfortunate father had earlier, that the ISI
could be countered by promoting rival agencies. She therefore appointed two
"friends" as chiefs of the two existing civilian agencies. The first
was the appointment of Rehman Malik as chief of the Federal Investigation
Agency (FIA), which looks into corruption and other issues, much like the CBI
in India. The FIA launched a secret war against the Islamists, which amounted
to a direct attack on the ISI. The Pakistani military brass is reported to
have been particularly dismayed by reports that the FIA had established
contact with the Israeli secret service, the MOSSAD, and was secretly taking
Israeli help to investigate and crack down on Islamist terrorists after the
Egyptian Embassy blast in 1995. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) too grew in
importance since the re-election of Benazir in 1993. IB Director General,
Masood Sharif, a retired Army Major appointed by Benazir, is believed to have
played an active role in toppling the Shabir Shah government in the North West
Frontier Province (NWFP). Worse, the Pakistani Army suspected that the IB
chief had used money from the Mehran bank scam to finance the political
horse-trading in the NWFP which ultimately led to the appointment of Benazir's
ally, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, as chief minister. Not surprisingly, one of the
first acts of President Leghari, after dismissing Benazir on the early hours
(3.10 am) of 5 November 1996, was to imprison the IB chief along with his
deputy, as well as the head of the FIA, Rehman Malik. The IB chief and Wajed
Durrani, SSP, Karachi, were accused of conspiring to murder Mir Murtaza Bhutto.
Within hours of the Constitutional coup, ISI agents sealed the offices of the
IB and the FIA. A serving Major General, Rafiullah Niazi, was appointed IB
chief. Benazir was out and every ISI chief since then would do everything to
make sure she never returned to power.
More intriguing and much better documented is the Nawaz Sharif-ISI saga.
His elevation as prime minister in November 1990 was clearly attributable to
the ISI. A sensational writ petition filed by the respected Pakistani stalwart
and chief of Tehrik-e-Istaqal, Air Marshal (Retd.) Asghar Khan before the
Pakistan supreme court claimed that the ISI had distributed at least Rs 140
million to various politicians before the 1990 elections on orders of the then
Army chief, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg. Prior to this, retired General Nasrullah
Babar had openly accused the then ISI chief, Maj. General Assad Durrani, of
personally distributing that money with the aim of ensuring Nawaz Sharif's
election as prime minister. Interestingly, the ISI never contradicted the
allegation or did anything to contest it in court. Gen. Beg admitted to the
court:"It is in my knowledge that it was the practice with the ISI to
support the candidates during the elections under the directions of the Chief
Executive of the Government". In 1994, during a chat with members of the
Karachi bar association, a particularly well known and still active ISI chief,
Hamid Gul, admitted that ISI did indeed have a political role and that such a
role had been formally incorporated in its charter in 1978. When his case came
to nothing, Asghar Khan lamented: "To allow the ISI to continue dealing
with political matters is to invite political instability. It is unrealistic
to expect the armed forces to stay away from politics when so many of its
officers continue to closely monitor these activities and in one way or the
other remain involved with politicians and with political parties. The role of
the ISI on different occasions in Pakistan's internal politics should awaken
us to the need for taking this action but we seem to learn very slowly and
sometimes never at all."
By all indications the ISI chose to learn nothing at all, and,
surprisingly, nor did Pakistani politicians. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who
during his second tenure as Prime Minister had grown exceedingly autocratic,
began to feel that his chief of Army Staff, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was too
strong willed and tended to run things his own way with the help of his right
hand man, Lt. Gen. Mhmd. Aziz. Sharif consequently cosied up to the ISI chief,
Lt. Gen. Khawaja Ziauddin, and soon it was apparent that the Army and the ISI
were dancing to different tunes. The ISI began to interfere in army matters
and for the moment the Gen. Musharraf could do nothing about it. This goes to
prove that the ISI despite being a wing of the Army can behave, and has done
so, in ways contrary to the Army's aims. Sharif might just have got away
and an army under Gen. Ziauddin could have been different. But the Army's
loyalty to the chief ensured Sharif's ouster and Gen.Ziauddin's immediate
house arrest. He was later court martialed and thrown out of the army. In his
place, Musharraf immediately appointed 10 Corps (Rawalpindi) commander Lt.
Gen. Mehmood Ahmed as ISI chief. Gen. Ahmed along with Lt. Gen. Mhmd. Aziz
(now commander 4 Corps Lahore) were Musharraf two most favourite officers and
both, incidentally, were pro-Jihadi.
Afghan Jihad: The Islamisation of the ISI
The late dictator Gen. Zia ul Haq was clearly the biggest patron of the ISI,
and he was an Islamist. Unlike the secular whiskey slugging generals before
him, Zia was a conservative, the son of a regimental cleric. He believed that
Pakistan could only prosper as an Islamist state. He was the strategist of the
Sikh and Kashmiri uprisings in India. In Afghanistan, he pushed for the
Islamist groups amongst the various Majahideen outfits and made sure everybody
understood the war to be Jihad. Some Pakistani observers have conjectured that
the Americans were never comfortable with Zip's Islamist persona and somehow
managed to engineer the air crash in which he was killed in 1988. The ISI's
role in the Afghan Jihad has been well documented in the famous book, The
Bear Trap: Afghanistan's Untold Story written by former ISI operative
Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf. In book, Brig. Yousaf, is often critical of the US
because of its attempts to prevent the ISI from supporting the Islamist groups
like those led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In his postscript, the Brig writes:
"The more I look back, the more I re-think events of the past three
years, the more convinced I am that it was the deliberate policy of the US
government that we should never achieve a military victory in
Afghanistan." According to him, the Jihad was sabotaged by various US
motivated measures, including the removal of ISI chief Lt. Gen. Abdul Rehman
Akhtar in 1987, just before the chance of a decisive victory in Afghanistan.
Then came the explosion that destroyed all the war stocks of the Mujahideen at
The lessons of Afghanistan were, however, not forgotten. The ISI's
attention was turned to Kashmir where its chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul under the
tutelage of Zia began the process of Islamisation and revolt. The Kashmir
chapter of the Jamaat e Islami, which had a long standing enmity with the
ruling National Conference, was activated and a new Islamist political front
called the Muslim United Front (MUF) formed. The MUF provoked violence during
the elections and made out that the ruling National Front was bent on denying
them justice. The elections were proclaimed rigged and thousands of Jamaat
supporters took to the streets in the towns of Kashmir. Hundreds of ISI agents
spreading hatred against the National Conference and India were infiltrated
into the valley. Existing Islamists and lumpen elements were provided
opportunities to train in Pakistan and sent back with guns and easy money.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ISI was mainly focused on Kashmir
and Punjab in India. The Afghan Jihad had proved to be a failure with none of
the Jihadi groups promoted by the ISI able to subjugate Afghanistan.
In 1994, egged on by an American oil company, Benazir Bhutto, then prime
minister, trusted her family friends, retired General Nasrullah Babar and
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the Islamist Jamait ul Uleima e Islami
Pakistan (JIUP), to raise an Afghan force, which eventually came to be
called the Taliban. Initially, the ISI was kept completely out of the picture
and all the necessary training and logistics provided by the paramilitary
Frontier Constabulary. The Taliban proved to be spectacularly successful,
partly because they sought to bring order in chaotic Afghanistan ruled by
corrupt governors and partly because they promised a just, Islamic order and
peace. Hundreds of soldiers from the opposition and scores of leaders crossed
over to the Taliban. By end 1996, Benazir was deposed and the Pakistani Army
came more fully into the picture. Regular Army units began fighting shoulder
to shoulder with the Taliban in hard spots in Bamiyan, Panjsher and Kunduz.
The ISI was pushed in once again, looking up old contacts, raising agents and
using dirty tricks to defeat opponents. By 1997, the Taliban had wrapped up
most of Afghanistan and it was expected that the last rebel strongholds would
fall in time. That it did not happen testifies to the religious intolerance of
the Taliban. They would brook no compromise and refused to moderate their
views toward perceived religious rivals like the Shias. But the bottom line
was that Kabul and 95 per cent of Afghanistan was in Taliban (read Pakistani)
hands. The Pakistani military establishment was delighted: it had achieved
what Gen. Zia had only dreamed about. Predictably, General Musharraf has
always been conciliatory towards the Taliban. ''The Taliban are the dominant
reality in Afghanistan. They control about 95 percent of the territory, and
cannot be wished away...We feel that the international community should engage
the Taliban rather than isolating and ostracizing them. The emphasis has so
far been on coercive methods. The unilateral arms embargo on Taliban
government is unjustified, discriminatory and will further escalate the war by
providing encouragement to the opposition forces to seek a military
solution,'' he said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Noviye
Izvestia on 14 August 2001.
Following the Taliban victory, Afghanistan became the nursery of the
Islamist international with Pakistan as the conductor. Islamist groups with
diverse aims from all over the world congregated and found shelter and succour
in Afghanistan. Together they forged a new ideology - that of a militant
Islamic brotherhood. This process was greatly aided by foreign Islamists like
Osama bin Laden, Saudi billionaire turned international terrorist. Jihad thus
became a principle of Pakistani foreign policy and the ISI its greatest
proponents. The ISI brought together a variety of organisations, including the
Harkat ul Mujahideen (formerly known as the Harkat ul Ansar), the Lashkar e
Taiba, Al Badr, Jaish e Mohammad, the Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the JUI.
They along with other international Islamist organisaions brought together by
Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeeda formed the Islamist International. This loose
federation of oragnisations comprise the Islamist Army that has begun battle
with the Israelis, the Hindus and the Crusaders (the West). The ISI was neck
deep in developing this great army and now suddenly they are being ordered to
prepare to battle it. The about face is not just dramatic - for the ISI and
the Islamists it is revolting, and unacceptable. The Islamists in Pakistan
have taken to streets to protest Gen. Musharraf's decision to support the
United States. Some say the islamists are a minority and have never won
elections. The same is true for the Pakistani Army or for that matter, the ISI.
But both are powerful organisations that have more say in the destiny of
Pakistan than its citizens. The Pakistani Army will once again try to tame the
ISI but nobody will be surprised if the Army turns out to be a Wehrmacht and
the ISI, the Gestapo.
Author: Indranil Banerjie
Date: 20 September 2001
The Pakistan Media: The Pakistan Army And The Inter-Services Intelligence:
Soldiers Or Narco-Terrorists ? *
Prime Minister Says Drugs Deals Were to Pay for Covert Military Operation
John Ward Anderson and Kamran Khan
Times, 22-28 September 1994
Army Chief and the Head of the Intelligence agency proposed a detailed
“blueprint” for selling heroin to pay for the country’s covert military
operations in early 1991, according to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
interview, Sharif claimed that three months after his election as Prime
Minister in November 1990, General Aslam Beg, then Army Chief of Staff, and
General Asad Durrani, then Head of the Military’s Inter-Services
Intelligence Bureau (ISI), told him the Armed Forces needed more money for
covert foreign operations and wanted to raise it through large-scale drug
Durrani told me, ‘We want a blueprint ready for your approval,” said
Sharif, who lost to Benazir Bhutto in elections last October and is now leader
of the opposition in Parliament.
totally flabbergasted,” Sharif said, adding that he called “Beg a few days
later to order the Army officially not to launch the drug trafficking plan.
retired in August 1991, denied Sharif’s allegation, saying, “We have never
been so irresponsible at any stage. Our politicians, when they’re not in
office and in the opposition, they say so many things. There’s just no truth
now Pakistan’s Ambassador to Germany, said: “This is a preposterous thing
for a former Prime Minister to say. I know nothing about it. We never ever
talked on this subject at all.”
Gen. S.M.A Iqbal, a Spokesman for the Armed Forces, said, “It’s
inconceivable and highly derogatory; such a thing could not happen.”
interview with Sharif, conducted at his home in Lahore, in May, was part of a
broad investigation into narcotics trafficking in Pakistan. It marked the
first time a senior Pakistani Official has publicly accused the country’s
Military of having contingency plans to pay for covert operations through drug
with the US State Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration said they
have no evidence that Pakistan’s military is or ever has been involved in
drug trafficking. But US and other officials have often complained about the
country’s weak efforts to curtail the spread of guns, money laundering,
official corruption and other elements of the deep-rooted drug culture in
Pakistan, which along with Afghanistan and Iran lies along the so-called
Golden Crescent, one of the world’s biggest drug-producing regions.
scathing report two years ago, a consultant hired by the CIA warned that drug
corruption had permeated virtually all segments of Pakistani society and that
drug kingpins were closely connected to the country’s key institutions of
power, including the President and Military intelligence agencies.
tonnes of heroin is produced annually in Pakistan, a third of which is
smuggled abroad, mostly to the West, according to the State Department’s
1994 Report on International Drug Trafficking. About 20 per cent of all heroin
consumed in the United States comes from Pakistan and its northern neighbour,
Afghanistan, the second largest opium producer in the world after Burma. The
United Nations says that as much as 80 per cent of the heroin in Europe comes
from the region.
been rumoured for years that Pakistan’s Military has been involved in the
drug trade. Pakistan’s Army, and particularly of the CIA – is immensely
powerful and is known for pursuing its own agenda. Over the years, civilian
political leaders have accused the Military – which has run Pakistan for
more than half its 47 years of independence – of developing the country’s
nuclear technology and arming insurgents in India and other countries without
their knowledge or approval and sometimes in direct violation of civilian
orders. Historically, the Army’s Chief of Staff has been the most powerful
person in the country.
to military sources, the intelligence agency has been pinched for funds since
the war in Afghanistan ended in 1989 and foreign governments – chiefly the
United States – stopped funneling money and arms through the ISI to Afghan
Mujahideen guerillas fighting the Soviet-backed Kabul government. Without the
foreign funds, the sources said, it has been difficult for the agency to
continue the same level of operations in other areas, including aiding
militants fighting Indian troops across the border in Kashmir. Such operations
are increasingly being financed through money raised by such private
organisations as the Jamiat-I-Islami, a leading fundamentalist political
diplomat who was based in Islamabad at the time of the purported meeting and
who had occasional dealings with Beg and Durrani, said, “It’s not
inconceivable that they could come up with a plan like this.”
were constant rumours that ISI was involved in rogue drug operations with the
Afghans – not so much for ISI funding, but to help the Afghans raise money
for their operations,” the diplomat said.
interview, Sharif claimed that the meeting between him and the General
occurred at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Islamabad after Beg
called one morning and asked to brief him personally on a sensitive matter.
Beg and Durrani insisted that Pakistan’s name would not be cited at any
place because the whole operation would be carried out by trustworthy third
parties,” Sharif said. “Durrani then went on to list a series of covert
military operations in desperate need of money.”
in the interview, would not discuss operation details of the proposal and
refused the intelligence agency what covert plans the intelligence agency
wanted to fund with the drug money.
said he had “no sources” to verify that the ISI had obeyed his orders to
abandon the plan but that he assumed the agency had complied.
them categorically not to initiate any such operation, and a few days later I
called Beg again to tell that I have disapproved the ISI plan to back heroin
that his political enemies cut short his term as Prime Minister last year and
helped engineer the return of Bhutto. Sharif has gone on an intense political
offensive to destabilize her 10-month-old government. He claimed recently that
Pakistan has a nuclear bomb and said he made the information public to prevent
Bhutto from dismantling the programme under pressure from the West. The
government has denied possessing a nuclear bomb but repeated previous
statements that it has the ability to build one.
Sharif a “loose cannon,” a second Western diplomatic source said, “I’d
have a hard time believing” his allegations about the military’s drug
trafficking proposal. The official suggested that Sharif’s disclosure might
be designed to keep Bhutto and Pakistan-India relations off balance. “If
anything should bring these two countries together, it is their common war
against the drug problem, but this seems to fly in the face of that,” he
Ilyas Khan and Owais Tahid
News’, Pakistan, September 23, 1994
cultivation in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal belt has been a feature of
the local economy for centuries. But these areas came to constitute the
world’s largest heroin harvesting zone on a commercial basis only abut
fifteen years ago, coinciding with the large scale induction of Pakistan’s
Inter-Services Intelligence Bureau (ISI) in these areas following
Afghanistan’s Saur revolution in 1977. Could it be that the ISI promoted
heroin as part of an official policy to fund its operations in post-revolution
Afghanistan and elsewhere?
Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif’s controversial interview published
recently in The Washington Post has pinned the then COAS and the ISI
Chief for having sought official permission to smuggle heroin to fund
“covert military operations”. The question is, was it the first time the
Army tried something like this, iat all? Some observers go a step further,
suggesting that the very inception of heroin production in the Pak-Afghanistan
border region was a planned affair, linked with the operations of the ISI, and
perhaps also of the American CIA which was pursuing its own set of objectives.
a decade after the first successful processing and refining of opium to
extract heroin by drug syndicates in the so-called Golden Triangle (Thailand,
Laos, Burma), Afghans and their cousins on this side of Durand Line knew
little or nothing, about opium extracts and their economic potential. Heroin
for them remained an unheard of commodity throughout the rule of Sardar Daud
and the early months of Saur revolution.
members of the then Pakistan establishment, their political allies on both
sides of the border, and their relatives and descendents who pass for rich
politicians, make no bones about the role which ISI played in obliterating for
all practical purposes, if only temporarily, the borders between Pakistan and
Afghanistan. Significantly, as the ISI was doing this, technology for refining
opium down to heroin started arriving in the borderland for the first time. In
subsequent years of the Afghan war, it grew at a dizzying pace to match, and
finally surpass, the growing influence of ISI in the region.
to reports of some Western agencies, including the American CIA, until 1979
both Pakistan and Afghanistan hardly had any heroin production facility
available. Official statistics of Pakistan Narcotics Control Board (PNCB) show
that the country had virtually no heroin users up to that year. But the
outlook began to change; by 1991, as much as 70 metric tonnes of heroin was
passing through the country to various international destinations.
to Khyber Agency locals, it was around 1979 that foreigners, particularly
Americans and Germans, started pouring into the areas as if by some divine
command, bringing with them refining equipment – a simple collection of pots
and pans – and chemicals used to extract heroin from opium, mainly ascetic
anhydride (AA). These foreigners had reportedly acquired their skills from the
Golden Triange countries.
Soviet troops entered Afghanistan later that fateful year, there was only one
mobile laboratory in Landikotal to refine opium. Within the next year, the
number of labs was 22, and by 1984 there were reportedly over 60 such labs in
operation in Khyber Agency alone, with Mohmand Agency accounting for its own
separate set of over half a dozen labs. The number has since swollen to over
100 labs in all, tugged around the Toyota pickups to ever more secure
the promulgation of the death penalty for drug running in post-revolution
Iran, Pakistan became the main conduit for heroin consignments produced in the
border region. This fact is evidence that even if the ISI did not run drugs as
an institutional policy, it did at least look the other way when someone else
did. The decade-long era of ISI’s phenomenal rise to prominence as a
politico-military intelligence network with professedly extra-territorial
interests is, after all, replete with continued – and almost completely
unhindered – shipment of large-scale heroin consignments over a distance of
some 1,100 miles from Peshawar to Karachi, and beyond.
significant number of independent narcotics experts in Pakistan believe that
ISI did not just look the other way. It is a widely held view that the ISI
Directorate allowed Afghan resistance groups to smuggle drugs, particularly
heroin, to fund their war effort in the early stages as well as after the cut
off of the US assistance towards the late 1980s.
sources have revealed that after Bhutto’s hanging in 1979, military dictator
General Ziaul Haq, was advised by a prominent, foreign-trained advisor to
capitalise on drug money in the absence of foreign assistance to meet the
challenge on Western border. According to these sources, Pakistan Air Force
planes were used in these early drug-running operations. No independent
confirmation of this is available although sufficient circumstantial evidence
can be drawn upon to corroborate this view.
narcotic experts point to ISI’s deep involvement with, besides Afghan
resistance groups, the Sikh militants of Indian Punjab who not only took
frequent refuge in Pakistan but also used the heroin trade through Pakistan
soil to fund arms purchases. Experts also link the pro-Pakistan Kashmiri
militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, with the drug-based assistance provided to
it by the ISI and its Afghani ally, the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbadin Hekmatyar,
best known among all the Afghan groups for its heroin connection.
also point to some recently revealed information about the growth of ISI from
its modest origins to become an enviably extensive intelligence network with
global operations in less than a decade’s time. They say it is hard to
imagine such phenomenal growth without the help of drug money. The fact that
by the mid-1980s, ISI rolls included 150,000 fully trained, fully equipped
personnel, besides preparing the entire groundwork for planning 300 trained
personnel behind the Indian border, must have cost the organisation a fortune,
is widely held by experts to have indulged at one time or another, overtly or
covertly, in drug running as a matter of policy, opinion is divided over
whether the Pakistan Army has also been a party to it. No doubt there is
little evidence to suggest Army’s involvement as an institution in heroin
smuggling, but the involvement of individual Army officers in the trade has
been widespread to spare the institution any of the embarrassment.
taking advantage of the unique position of power which the Armed Forces have
traditionally enjoyed in Pakistani politics, the men in uniform started taking
liberties with the country’s anti-narcotic laws as far back as the
mid-1970s, perhaps even earlier. An embarrassing situation arose in 1976 when,
only three days before the State visit of former Prime Minister Zulifikar Ali
Bhutto to Sweden, Swedish authorities recovered large quantities of hashish
from two of Pakistan Air Force’s C-130 aircraft. The aircrafts were in
Sweden to collect spares of SAB-17 trainer planes being assembled in Pakistan.
The entire crew was arrested and put on trial.
of the involvement of Armed Forces personnel in drug trafficking became more
frequent in General Zia’s days. Answering a parliamentary question in 1986,
a member of the late Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo’s Cabinet admitted
on the floor of the National Assembly that as many as 18 Brigadiers and some
PAF officers had been sentenced to various terms in jail on drug charges
too, several Armed Forces personnel were held on drug charges from time to
time. During the martial law period of 1977-85, a number of officers, mostly
Majors heading Martial Law Courts, started accepting bribes from those held on
drug charges, and proceeded to become heavily involved in drugs. At least 13
Majors and two Brigadiers were charged by the Military with drug related
offences in the early 1980s.
them were such notorious characters as Major Afridi, Flight Lieutenant Khairun
Rahman, Major Javed and Major Zahoor. Major Afridi, a loner, made several
trips in a private car between Peshawar and Karachi, always in uniform and
with a lady at his side, the empty spaces of the car stuffed with bags of
to reports collected by these correspondents, these and other officers made
extensive use of Army vehicles for transporting heroin on long and short
distances. Major Afridi, Flt. Lt. Khairun Rahman and Majors Javed and Zahoor
ultimately escaped from military detention. Afterwards, they reportedly
continued to use military transport, for their illegal operations. Reports
suggest that major Afridi had bribed a military doctor to order his transfer
from lockup to the hospital on medical grounds, from where he slipped away to
freedom and his drugs trade.
astonishing example is that of former Air Vice Marshal AShamim, who got
himself hopelesstuck in the international drugs morass, believing that his
influence with General Zia would help him retrieve his reputation. He was
General Zia did not offer help: Shamim was designated Pakistan’s Ambassador
to Canada, an attractive assignment for one whose criminal record had become
public. But the Canadian Government refused to accept his credentials. Later
the Pakistani government tried to send him to Saudi Arabia as Ambassador, but
the Saudis also reportedly refused to have him.
Zia may continue to have a clean image in the eyes of many, but his entire
eleven years of power were spent in close proximity with criminals,
particularly drug traffickers. Two of his pilots were involved in using the
presidential aircraft to smuggle heroin. At least one of them, Major Farooq
Hameed, was arrested during a state visit to the US. But as desired by the
dictator and in view of the “diplomatic complications” that might follow,
no trial was held and the case was hushed up “in the interest of the
Zia also tried to protect another protégé, Hamid Hasnain, a Senior Executive
of Habib Bank Ltd. but could not have his way. Hasnain was held in mid-1980s
in Norway while smuggling heroin. General Zia reportedly demanded an
explanation for the arrest, but the Norwegians threatened a diplomatic outcry
if the Pakistani authorities pursued the case any further.
protégé of Zia, General Fazle Haq, once referred to as the world’s richest
General, also came to be widely associated with NWFP, based drug cartels. His
association with General Zia went back to their days in the Armoured Crops.
Later, as a Corps Commander he helped Zia to overthrow Bhutto’s government,
and served as Zia’s long term Governor of NWFP and his key Advisor on the
Afghan war. His “crusade” against the Kukikhel drug barons of Khyber
Agency in early 1985 is viewed by many as a war between the Afridi and
Yusufzais over control of the Frontier heroin trade. While his direct
involvement in the drug trade was never proved, credible reports suggest that
he operated through Haji Ayub Afridi, perhaps the most powerful and
influential drug baron of Pakistan to date.
early 1980s, two foreigners were arrested by Pakistani authorities while
attempting to smuggle heroin. On one of them, a Norwegian named George Trober,
the authorities found a notebook containing personal telephonic contacts of
General Fazle Haq, then Governor of NWFP. The other, Hisayoshi Maruyama, a
Japanese scout, was stated to be close to Zia’s family. Indeed, Maruyama’s
close links with Zia’s family became the subject of a subsequent BBC
documentary titled “The Scout Who Smuggled Heroin.”
significant aspect of Army’s involvement, at whatever level, in Pakistan’s
narcotics trade is the reportedly extensive use of military transport for
heroin trafficking. Army trucks transporting arms to resistance groups as well
as the National Logistics Cell (NLC) vehicles are said to have been invariably
used for shipping heroin consignments from upcountry all the way to Karachi,
especially during the early days of Afghan resistance.
role in supplying automatic firearms to dacoit gangs in interior Sindh and to
urban rings in Karachi is not a secret any more. Former caretaker Prime
Minister, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, is on record having made such allegations,
which were never denied. NLC’s role in drug trafficking appears to have been
example is that of a 10 tonne heroin consignment from Karachi, intercepted in
January 1993 by Turkish authorities on a tip off from the USA. The ship
carrying the “burden” had awaited the cargo for 28 days, anchored off the
coast of Karachi on the guise of repairs. The consignment, duly packed in
shipping containers in Peshawar, was reportedly brought to Karachi on NLC
truck, and loaded onto the ship on deep sea. But thanks to satellite
technology, the Americans were watching.
continuous reports of NLC trucks being used for shady activities generated
considerable controversy and pressures were brought to bear on the PNCB
(Pakistan Narcotics Control Board), especially during Junejo’s time, to
check this tendency. But the PNCB held that it had no power to search NLC
vehicles carrying Afghan arms consignments. PNCB later requested permission to
search NLC trucks, but was turned down by the then political authorities.
recent interview allegedly given to The Washington Post by former Prime
Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, the veracity or otherwise of its contents
notwithstanding, is the first piece of formal information to come from a high
official of the time which supports observations by some experts about the
Army’s involvement in the heroin trade.
to some observers, Sharif might have said what he said in the purported
interview “in the heat of the moment” (Kamran Khan met him the Day LDA was
bringing down the encroachments around his Lahore residence), but given the
track record of the then COAS, Mirza Aslam beg, and the fact that Pakistan’s
aid pipelines from the West had started drying up by 1989, the allegation that
a blueprint of drug trafficking was drawn by the Army “does have a ring of
truth” to it.
scenario was already being predicted by some international heroin trade
watchers. A secret report commissioned by the American CIA and submitted in
September 1992, suggested that “middle and junior grade (Pakistan Army)
officers feel betrayed by the US over the arms cut off and talk openly about
using the international narcotics trade to support military purchases. Whether
any of this has gone beyond talk is not known”.
report further observed: “…. The combination of the US aid cut off
(following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan lost
this major source of funding for sophisticated weapons) and the drug money
flowing into Pakistan through the black economy and the legal bearer bond
schemes will tempt the Armed Forces to tap narcotics to finance their
expensive weapons purchases.”