Kashmir would continue to remain one of the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) priority areas for years to come. And this is not only because of Pakistan’s desire to integrate Kashmir into its borders but also because the Kashmir dispute further gives the ISI legitimacy, according to Hein G. Kiessling, the author of ‘Faith, Unity, Discipline: The Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan’.
Taking part in a discussion on his book at Observer Research Foundation on January 16, 2017, Kiessling said it was in ISI’s interest to not settle the Kashmir dispute with India, as it allows the ISI to continue its nefarious activities. In other words, if the dispute with India is resolved, the ISI importance would significantly diminish and it would lose its raison d’être.
Saying that dearth of academic scholarship on the ISI, one of the “best” intelligence agencies in Asia, prompted him to write the book, Kiessling said the ISI, and not the CIA as most would like to believe, was crucial in defeating the Soviets. According to him, in 2004, albeit an exaggerate figure, the ISI agents were around 3,500 while at the same time R&AW had over 7,000.
Kiessling said the ISI, which was established in the wake of the Indo-Pakistan war in 1947-8, grew to play a leading role in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan after facing a huge moral crisis in the 1970s, that propelled its subsequent expansion into Afghanistanin the 80s.
However, over the years, he said, the Pakistan army has gained greater legitimacy and popularity in the public eyes. The Pakistani army chief has continued to be the most important person in the country; while he always listens to the ISI, his actions are his alone and the ISI have learnt to obey. For the army, one of its primary goals remains the acquisition or ‘freedom’ of Kashmir.
The 9/11 attacks in the United States is another key issue that figures in the book, especially the probable ISI involvement. While there is no substantial evidence that endorses or proves ISI’s involvement in 9/11, it is improbable that General Pervez Musharraf was clueless about the attacks. As the President of Pakistan and army chief, it is likely that Musharraf knew ‘something big’ was going to happen or was in the process of being planned. He however did not take any action against this, including passing the intelligence or information along to the US. Mr Kiessling narrates that a former ISI Director General, Mahmud Ahmed had made bold attempts to convince him that 9/11 was an ‘in-house job’, a claim he dismisses.
Just as with 9/11, when it comes to the Mumbai attacks in 2008, the involvement of the top-end leadership is highly conceivable, considering the resources and planning that went into 26/11. His book also brings into picture the case of Raymond Davis that brought senior leaders in the USA to intervene in the internal affairs of Pakistan. To an extent, that John Kerry himself flew to Islamabad to get back Davis from Pakistan.
The book also sheds light into the internal politics of Pakistan. During the general elections in 2013, the country witnessed the emergence of Imran Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The PTI was successfully able to stage a number of national protests that rattled the incumbent government. Many suspect that PTI has close ties with the ISI which has in turn helped boost their resurgence to the forefront of Pakistan’s political arena. However, while the ISI has closely watched and played a part in the domestic politics of Pakistan, its biggest strength was in the way it analyses and finds solutions for Pakistan’s strategic problems in the region. The agency, however, fails to give adequate importance to the international situation and the repercussion and long term consequences of Pakistan’s actions. For the time being, ISI’s primary focus remains expansions of its influence in Afghanistan and liberation of Kashmir from India. It also continues to keep a watch on Pakistan’s domestic political scenario ensuring that no party, person or idea is above Pakistan’s traditional national interests.
The discussion was chaired by Rakesh Sood, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. As the former chief of R&AW, Vikram Sood, a senior advisor to ORF, provided his thoughts and comments on the book. Vikram Sood said the ISI was used not just as an intelligence agency, but more as an instrument of the foreign policy for the Pakistan Army. He also pointed out that the ISI came into its own during the Afghan Jihad in the early nineties, where it began to influence the fight amongst mujahideen factions in Afghanistan. This was also the time when it extended its influence and reach into Kashmir and India. Since then, India has fought against ISI in Kashmir. Frequent meetings and exchanges between top level ISI and R&AW officials could help defuse tensions and promote peace and harmony in the region, Mr Sood said.
This report was prepared by Baisali Mohantry and Avantika Deb, Research Interns, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi