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Jihad nation: Why the ISI must be tagged a terrorist outfit

Jihad nation: Why the ISI must be tagged a terrorist outfit

Author: Venky Vembu
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: October 11, 2011
URL: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/jihad-nation-why-the-isi-must-be-tagged-a-terrorist-outfit-104606.html#.TpSb6H8KM_w.email

In early May, barely days after the secret US raid at Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, a rattled Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, wary of a military coup at home, struck a deal with US officials.

Under the deal, as mediated by Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American who claims to have once helped negotiate a ceasefire in Kashmir, Zardari pledged that the Pakistani national security team would "eliminate" a shadowy arm of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's all-powerful intelligence agency.

US officials have long held that the so-called S-Wing, a secretive and utterly ruthless division in the ISI, provides strategic oversight for the ISI's overseas jihadi-terrorist operations. In 2009, they explicitly said that the S-Wing provided direct support to three major groups carrying out attacks in Afghanistan, including the Haqqani Network of the Taliban, headed by guerilla leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.

A previously unreleased video of slain former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is seen in this still image taken from a video released on 12 September 2011. Reuters

The S-Wing's role in sponsoring terror in India also came into focus during the trial in Chicago earlier this year of David Headley.

Zardari's calculation was that as the head of a civilian government that had been caught napping while US troops sneaked in to kill bin Laden, he was at risk of being overthrown by an equally embarrassed Pakistani military, which had to be seen to be doing something.

Unknown to the military leaders and to the ISI, he therefore scrambled to reach out to US officials in the hope that an assertion of authority by the US on behalf of the Zardari government would pre-empt mischievous military plots and save his skin. In return for such a show of support, he was willing to 'deliver' the "elimination" of the S-Wing of the ISI.

In the end, however, Zardari never delivered on that commitment - because it was never in his power to deliver it. After all, it wasn't his finger on the trigger of the gun, so how could he offer to disarm?

Power imbalance

Ijaz's first-person account of those gripping days, when long-held suspicions of Pakistani complicity in the sustenance of terrorist groups were unambiguously confirmed for the world to see, offers an insight into the real nature of the power imbalance in Pakistan.

It is the ISI that really controls the levers of the jihadi military machine that it then uses against its perceived enemies - principally, India and the US and their shared interests in Afghanistan.

After the flame war of the past fortnight, when the US blew the whistle yet again on ISI support for the Taliban group Haqqani Network's attack on the US embassy in Kabul, and offered veiled threats to go after Taliban targets within Pakistan, the ISI and the Pakistani military are once again feeling the heat.

There have been public demands from US policymakers and from military officials for wider Pakistani support in targeting the Haqqani Network - or face an aid cut-off. Yet, the ISI and the Pakistani military are digging their heels in.

According to reports in the Pakistani media, at a secret meeting in Abu Dhabi late last month between US Senator John Kerry (who is tipped to be the next US Secretary of State if US President Barack Obama is re-elected) and Pakistan's Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Kerry couldn't extract any concessions that the Pakistani military would go after the Haqqani Network.

Yet, Kayani was able to secure a pledge from Kerry, who is perceived as a friend of Pakistan, that a cut-off of US aid to Pakistan would not be a good idea.

In subsequent comments, Kayani has bluntly specified that the Pakistani military will not undertake operations in North Waziristan, where the Haqqani Network's leaders are believed to be holed up.

In a commentary in the Financial Times, Ijaz argues that in the face of Pakistan's obduracy, "the time has come for the US State Department to declare the S-Wing a sponsor of terrorism" because "it is the S-Wing that provides military support and intelligence logistics for the Haqqani Network. "It no longer matters whether the IS is wilfully blind, complicit or incompetent in the attacks its S-Wing is carrying out. S-Wing must be stopped."

Not just 'a rogue'

On the face of it, the suggestion appears to have its merits. Yet, it overlooks the critical consideration that Pakistan's sponsorship of jihadi terror today isn't the outcome of a division in the ISI that has "gone rogue". It is the product of a cold-blooded strategic calculation within the ISI and the Pakistani military that control of jihadi groups gives Pakistan "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and against India - and the US.

The cancer of jihadism today wracks not just some phantom limbs of the ISI, but its entire frame. As Time magazine noted with concern earlier this year, Pakistan can no longer be said to be playing a "double game" in the war on terror. There's only a single game: "an unambiguous and deeply dangerous confrontation."

In other words, it isn't just the S-Wing, a mere rump of an organisation within the ISI, that ought to be declared a terrorist organisation. The entire ISI ought to be characterised a terror outfit.

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