Tag Archives: ISI

Nawaz Sharif Should Cancel His US Visit In Protest

Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is due to arrive in Washington this week for three days of meetings with his US counterparts where he is expected to “reaffirm Pakistan’s national interests.” The Prime Minister is not, however, the only Pakistani official traveling to Washington. In fact, despite the headlines, Nawaz Sharif may be the least influential Pakistani official to make his way to Washington.

Before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left for Washington, another Pakistani quietly arrived in town to hold high-level meetings with American officials. These meetings have not received the same triumphant media attention as the Prime Minister’s, despite likely having far more significance. That official? Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). According to Pakistani media,

The DG ISI, upon his return Sunday evening, will present a report to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and brief the premier regarding details of his discussions with US officials. Nawaz is expected to depart for the US following the briefing.

The ISI chief’s briefing is probably necessary as it is unlikely that the Prime Minister is aware of what was discussed by the General beforehand despite the fact that Nawaz Sharif technically holds the Foreign Minister’s portfolio in addition to his responsibility as Prime Minister. It is well accepted that Pakistan’s civilian officials have little to no say in matters of foreign policy or national security. Even Nawaz Sharif’s “Foreign Policy Advisor,” Sartaj Aziz, is being replaced with a military officerLieutenant General Naseer Khan Janjua, who conveniently retired from the military a few days ago. Neither will Prime Minister Sharif have the last word with American officials. After he returns to Pakistan, his visit will be followed up by the man most accept as the true head of the Pakistani state, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif.

If you think bookending a Prime Minister’s high-profile visit with low-profile visits from high ranking military officers looks like dressing up a military regime with a civilian facade, maybe that’s because it is. That was the assessment of Vali Nasr, Dean of the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former Senior Advisor at the US State Department.

“Nawaz Sharif’s administration has fallen into the same pattern as [former] President [Asif Ali] Zardari, which means that there is a very stable civilian façade that actually does not make any critical decisions, particularly on security issues that [are] very obviously delegated to the military,” Nasr, who served as Special Adviser to Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2009 to 2011, said in a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council.

When it comes to Pakistan’s Afghan, Indian, and general security policies, the “real decisionmakers” are in the military, specifically Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, said Nasr. “That’s the new normal in Pakistan: No coups, civilian governments that will end their terms but basically make no waves.”

Herein lies the problem. By allowing Pakistan’s military to keep up this charade, the US is undermining Pakistani democracy and facilitating an unsustainable political situation in which Pakistan’s military is increasingly in control behind the scenes while civilians are left taking responsibility for social and economic problems. American officials may believe, as they have in the past, that this is an unfortunate but necessary outcome from American reliance on Pakistani military cooperation in Afghanistan, but there’s increasing evidence that this reliance on Pakistan’s military is actually undermining progress in Afghanistan. As Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida explained yesterday, it’s Pakistan’s military – not the civilians – who gain from letting the war drag on.

The way the US has defined its interests means what it basically needs from Pakistan are security things. And that shapes who is relevant here and who is not.

Since 9/11, there’s nothing the US has asked of Pakistan that makes civilians relevant. When you’re incidental to the biggest foreign policy and national security demands from the biggest player in the world, that distorts what happens at home.

Which is a pity. No mainstream civilian wants to dominate Afghanistan. None consider militants to be a tool of statecraft or a fundamental ally. None advocate more and more nukes.

Whether it’s Afghanistan, militancy or nuclear weapons, most civilians do not have the same approach as the army’s. That’s why the army needs to dominate them.

Four years ago, Admiral Mullen defined the Haqqani Network, a group of Islamist militants responsible for killing American soldiers, as “a veritable arm of the ISI.” Just last month, the State Department issued a statement lamenting Pakistan’s continued unwillingness to stop the Haqqani Network and other Islamist groups responsible for destabilizing South Asia, a problem the White House continues to press Pakistan on. A few days ago the Associated Press reported that US analysts believe ISI operatives are coordinating Taliban attacks against US troops in Afghanistan. One would think this would be enough to convince US leaders of the need to re-prioritize relations with Pakistan’s civilians over continuing what Bruce Riedel has described as the “deadly embrace” with Pakistan’s military leadership. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. And so it is left to Pakistan’s civilian leadership to do something to change this disastrous course.

Shortly after Pakistan’s previous civilian government took power in 2008, then-Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before the Pakistan Army’s spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the decision. In contrast, Pakistan’s present civilian government has largely given the Army wide latitude. The results speak for themselves.

Despite a concerted (and admittedly impressive) public relations campaign designed to depict a Pakistan ascending, there is little reason to believe that much has changed for the better. Islamist militant groups continue to operate openly while secular political parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement are targeted by paramilitary forces, and retired military officers call for expanding the raids to include other secular political parties. And while many are quick to cite the decline in fatalities over the past year, the fact remains that Pakistan suffered over 800 terrorist attacks in the first eight months of this year alone. Just last week, a suicide bomber carried out an attack against a member of the Prime Minister’s political party in his home province of Punjab. Meanwhile, relations with both India and Afghanistan continue to sink to new lows.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, may believe that he has no choice but to play his role in this absurd charade. He’s probably right. While Pakistan’s military would only stand to lose by carrying out an obvious coup d’etat, they remain firmly in control and there are plenty of political opportunists waiting in the wings to fill Nawaz’s role should he fail to perform as expected. Playing along may provide short-term protections, but the long-term outlook is bleak. The Prime Minister’s political party is losing support along with civilian democracy. When historians look back on Nawaz Sharif’s third-term as Prime Minister, will they see a strong national leader, or a willing puppet?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is reportedly stopping in London en route to Washington for his three day visit. He should stay and enjoy a shopping trip at Harrod’s. The Prime Minister would better serve his country if he canceled his visit to the US in protest of the US government’s complicity in the undermining of Pakistan’s civilian democracy. He would likely be serving his own interests as well.

Sen. McCain discusses US-Pakistan relations at CSIS

Q: Thank you, Senator McCain. I’m a former World Bank official and former senator from Pakistan. I — Pakistan is a key ally to United States and, in fact, only non-NATO ally. Next week is Chicago Summit. What do you see the role of Pakistan? Thank you.

SEN. MCCAIN: Pakistan is vital to United States national security interests for a broad variety of reasons, including the nuclear inventory that Pakistan has, including the fact that Pakistan’s role in the region is vital, not to mention relations with India.

But we have to operate in our relations with Pakistan with the realization that the ISI has close relations with the Haqqani network, and they are carrying out activities that kill Americans. Now, that’s just an assessment that cannot be refuted by the facts, and it saddens me.

We were talking earlier, just before this — (inaudible) — one of the gravest mistakes in recent history was the so-called Pressler Amendment, which basically cut off our military-to military relations, and we are paying, still paying a very heavy price for.

I think there are some who would argue that Pakistan is a failed state. I don’t argue that, but I do — could argue plausibly that the politics in Pakistan are very, very unsettled, to say the least.

And it is in our interest to have good relations with Pakistan. It is in our interest to aid Pakistan and try to assist them to a better democracy and a lessening of corruption and a severing of relations between the ISI and the Haqqani network. But we cannot force it. If there is any lesson we should have to learn over and over again, we can’t force the Pakistani government and people to change their ways unless they want to.

And it’s so disheartening sometimes to see the lack of progress towards a meaningful democracy and rule of law and all the things that we would hope that the Pakistanis might achieve. But whether we are successful in persuading them or not, Pakistan will remain a country that is vital to United States national security interests. I don’t have to draw for you the various scenarios of a breakdown in their government.

Pakistan’s Church Committee Opportunity

CIA Director William Colby testifying before the Church CommitteeTwo Supreme Court cases have dominated headlines in Pakistan recently, the judicial commission investing claims about an unsigned memo, and the ongoing hearings about decades old corruption cases against president Asif Zardari. But there is a third case set to begin next month that could have equally important ramifications for democracy and justice in Pakistan. Unlike the better-publicized cases which center on alleged acts by government officials, this lesser reported case centers on allegations of election interference by the country’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI. And the outcome of this case could significantly strengthen the democratic process.

The case, alternately known as the Asghar Khan case (after the former Air Marshal who originally filed the case in 1996) and the Mehran Bank scandal (after the bank where bribe money was kept), centers on allegations that Pakistan Army and ISI officers bribed politicians, journalists and public groups in an effort to prevent the re-election of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidates in the 1992 elections.

Both Altaf Hussain, leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a former Prime Minister from the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) party recently admitted to being offered millions by the ISI to oppose the PPP, though both claim they refused the offers. But others are alleged to have accepted the bribes. According to former Director General of the ISI Asad Durrani, funds were distributed to the following groups and individuals:

Nawaz Sharif got Rs3.5 million; Mir Afzal Khan Rs10 million; Lt. Gen. Rafaqat got Rs5.6 million for distribution among journalists; Abida Hussain Rs1 million; Jamat-e-Islami Rs5 million; Altaf Hussain Qureshi Rs500,000; Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi Rs5 million (Sindh); Jam Sadiq Rs5 million (Sindh); Muhammad Khan Junejo Rs250,000 (Sindh); Pir Pagara Rs2 million (Sindh); Maulana Salahuddin Rs300,000 (Sindh); different small groups in Sindh Rs5.4 million and; Humayun Marri Rs1.5 million (Balochistan).

While such blatant electoral interference may seem shocking, such acts were not previously unheard of in Pakistan. In 2009, Gen. Hamid Gul admitted to having organized a political party, the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), while he was head of the ISI in 1988 as part of his efforts to prevent the PPP from winning a decisive electoral victory. According to the former Pakistani spy chief, under his leadership the ISI actively supported politicians “who had affiliation with the GHQ (Pakistan’s military headquarters)” against the PPP.

Nor did the ISI’s political machinations end with the turn of the century. Another former ISI official, Maj. Gen. Ehtesham Zamir, told the media that he had been personally responsible for manipulating elections in 2002 at the direction of Gen. Musharraf.

After Watergate exposed possibile illegal intelligence activities by the CIA and FBI, the Senate convened the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities to investigate how American intelligence agencies were operating. Chaired by Senator Frank Church, this committee has come to be known as the Church Committee. The committee’s work resulted in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to provide guidelines and civilian oversight to American intelligence agencies.

Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in in direct opposition to it.

Shortly after Pakistan’s present civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the decision.

As Pakistan prepares for its next general elections, the cloud of past electoral manipulation by the ISI continues to cast a shadow over the democratic process. Former cricketer Imran Khan’s party is openly accused by the PML-N of receiving funding and logistical support from the ISI, and Pakistani news reports suggest that “more than half of the PTI top leadership now comprises either retired military, ISI officials or those politicians known as men of the establishment”, lending to the appearance that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is the latest in a long line of ISI front parties. Imran Khan insists that his is a populist, not an establishment party, but these rumors continue to surround his sudden rise in popularity.

Next month, Pakistan has the opportunity for its own “Church Committee” moment, ensuring that the next elections are carried out without freely and fairly, and without interference from the ISI or any other institution. With the Supreme Court, and not the parliament, overseeing hearings into the ISI’s interference in past elections, the process has the potential to avoid being politicized. The Chief Justice, who currently enjoys a high approval rating in Pakistan, has the opportunity to set clear limits for the involvement of military and intelligence agencies in political affairs, and to establish a transparent process of oversight to ensure compliance.

The Court’s guiding principle should be, as always, to allow the people of Pakistan the opportunity to choose their own leaders and define their own future without interference by any military or intelligence agency, foreign or domestic. By establishing an effective oversight regime for American intelligence agencies, the Church Committee strengthened the democratic process in the United States. Pakistan deserves no less.

Trouble Brewing in Pakistan

Pakistan's President Asif Zardari with the Gen. Kayani
Pakistan’s political class is a buzz over rumors that the country’s military and intelligence agency are working behind the scenes to alter the makeup of Pakistan’s government. All of this comes following a closed door meeting on Monday between Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, and President Asif Zardari in which the nation’s military chief allegedly demanded the removal of some civilian officials.

Newsweek Pakistan reported on Twitter early this morning that a “source claims Army has asked President Zardari to sack three officials”, and that “Army also pressing Islamabad to appoint a National Security Adviser” – no doubt they have a recommendation readily at hand.

One of the officials Pakistan’s military is trying to push out appears to be Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. On his political talk show, Aapas Ki Baat, Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi reported that Pakistan’s Army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) – long suspicious of the outspoken ambassador – no longer wishes to have Husain Haqqani remain at his post.

Husain Haqqani is a controversial figure in Pakistan. He has long issued warnings about the rise of extremism and intolerance in Pakistan, including in the nation’s military and intelligence agencies, and he has openly called for a change in the nation’s national security paradigm.

Some in Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies may see this as a threat to a security strategy in the region that relies on militant groups like the Haqqani network to “[shape] an Afghanistan that is more favourable to Pakistan,” and defend against a perceived threat from India. Right wing commentators for years have called on the ISI to “put [Husain Haqqani] under surveillance if not on a lamp-post,” while others have posted today that the “Time for ruthless accountability of those who’ve betrayed our nation and people nears.”

Today’s issue of The Nation, a right-wing English-language daily, carries a front page headline, “Husain Haqqani in hot waters.” Pakistan’s mainstream media reports that the Ambassador has been summoned to Islamabad to brief the government on recent developments in US-Pakistan relations, but some worry that a trap is being set and that the Ambassador could be used as a reminder to other civilian officials not to stray too far from the establishment line.

Reports that Pakistan’s military and ISI are once again interfering in domestic politics are deeply troubling for Pakistan’s fragile democracy. That the civilian officials being targeted by the ISI appear to be those speaking openly against extremism makes the reports even more dire.

Is Pakistan at war with the United States?

That’s the alarming headline of a blog post by Walter Russell Mead, James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest. The impetus for Mead’s question is the recent allegation that links exist between Pakistan’s government and the Haqqani network of militants in North Waziristan that is believed to be responsible for attacks on American soliders in Afghanistan. But Mead’s concerns are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the way Pakistan’s government operates, and his conclusion, founded in this misunderstanding, recommends a self-defeating policy for anyone that wants to promote democracy and justice in Pakistan.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said over the weekend that “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistani government.” But we must take care when discussing “the Pakistani government” not to fall into the trap of mirror-imaging, assuming the Pakistani “government” operates in the same cohesive manner that the US government does.

Ambassador Munter’s statements alleging official support for the Haqqani network refer to evidence against the ISI – not the civilian leadership.

[Admiral] Mullen believes that “elements” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI, “directly support” the Haqqani network, Kirby said.

The Haqqani network is aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda and is considered one the most significant threats to stability in Afghanistan. U.S. officials believe Haqqani operatives are moving unfettered across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are responsible for several recent high-profile attacks in Kabul, including this week’s assault.

In late April, Mullen said on Pakistan’s Geo TV that the ISI has a “long-standing relationship” with the Haqqani network.

Confusion arises because Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in opposition to it.

The most recent example of the ISI operating outside the oversight of the civilian government could be seen on the pages of the Wall Street Journal this past 9/11. A half-page ad asked, “Which country can do more for your peace?” and included statistics about the losses Pakistan has suffered in the war on terrorism. While the bottom of the ad said, “Government of Pakistan,” the Journal’s South Asia reporter, Tom Wright, found that the ad was not approved through the regular government channels.

Pakistani media blog Cafe Pyala called their own sources and found evidence that the ad was a politically tone-deaf attempt by the ISI to influence American opinion.

Well, our sources inform us that the problem about the source of the ad arose because neither the Pakistan Embassy in Washington nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) nor the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoI&B) were the sources of the ad. In fact, our sources confirm that none of these three Pakistani government entities was even consulted about the ad. In fact, the ad, designed by the Pakistani advertising agency Midas, was placed directly from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

Why, you might ask, would the Prime Minister’s Secretariat bypass its own subordinate media departments and its representatives who are specifically tasked with international relations work? Could it be, as our sources indicate, that the advertisement was the first instance of the country’s premier intelligence agency directly placing an advertisement in a foreign publication?

Nor is this the first time that the ISI has made an end run around the civilian leadership in Pakistan. Shortly after Pakistan’s civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the announcement.

The government’s backtracking has prompted plenty of comment among politicians and in the Pakistan media.

An ex-army officer and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, told the Dawn News TV channel that the government retracted its decision when the army “showed its teeth”.

Formally, the ISI currently reports to the prime minister. But many observers believe it is answerable to no one.

This split between the democratically-elected civilian government and Pakistan’s spy agency was shown in stark relief during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Writing for the English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida noted that when push comes to shove, it’s not the civilians who hold the upper hand in matters that concern the ISI.

When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

Walter Read says he supports a continued US-Pakistan relationship, “but in our view the US has to be ready to walk away for the relationship to have a chance.” We suggest that walking away is the wrong prescription.

The Pakistani government is fighting multiple wars, but none is against the United States. The primary war, the one that has claimed the lives of 30,000 Pakistanis, is against Taliban militants who will go so far as to attack a bus filled with school children. The other war is for Pakistan’s soul, and is being waged quietly behind the scenes as democratically oriented civilian leaders struggle to wrest control of the nation from undemocratic forces leftover from previous dictatorships. Walking away from the democratic civilian leaders will only strengthen the undemocratic forces in Pakistan. It’s a mistake the US has made in the past, and one that it should be careful not to repeat.

It may seem counterintuitive to speak of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies as separate institutions, but the distinction matters. Pakistan’s civilian leadership – though weak – is trying to implement democratic reforms; and those efforts are often held back by unaccountable military and intelligence officials who are loath to cede their power to civilians. Rather than paint all institutions with the same broad brush, US officials should seek to strengthen civilian democratic institutions so that they can effectively reign in those parts of the military and intelligence services that are acting outside of civilian oversight.

Adm. Mullen’s Pakistan Red Herring

Admiral Mullen

Admiral Mullen made headlines yesterday when he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that, the murder of a Pakistani journalist “was sanctioned by the government.” For those suspicious of Pakistan, these words reinforced previously held beliefs. Ironically, however, the institution that most gained from Adm. Mullen’s statement was the one suspected of responsibility for the journalists death – Pakistan’s ISI.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the White House has obtained classified information implicating Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in the murder.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The involvement of the ISI has been suspected ever since Saleem Shahzad’s body was discovered. Human Rights Watch released copies of emails sent from the murdered journalist prior to his death. Shahzad sent the emails, “in case something happens to me or my family in future.” These emails detail conversations between Shahzad and ISI officials unhappy with his reporting on extremist infiltration in Pakistan’s military.

But rather than mention the ISI in his remarks, Admiral Mullen laid the blame on “the government,” leaving many Americans to incorrectly assume that the murder of Saleem Shahzad was carried out under the direction of the civilian leadership.

“It was sanctioned by the government,” Admiral Mullen told journalists during a Pentagon briefing. “I have not seen anything to disabuse the report that the government knew about this.”

Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in opposition to it.

Shortly after Pakistan’s civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the announcement.

The government’s backtracking has prompted plenty of comment among politicians and in the Pakistan media.

An ex-army officer and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, told the Dawn News TV channel that the government retracted its decision when the army “showed its teeth”.

Formally, the ISI currently reports to the prime minister. But many observers believe it is answerable to no one.

This split between the democratically-elected civilian government and Pakistan’s spy agency was shown in stark relief during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Writing for the English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida noted that when push comes to shove, it’s not the civilians who hold the upper hand in matters that concern the ISI.

When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

It may seem counterintuitive to speak of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies as separate institutions, but the distinction matters. Pakistan’s civilian leadership – though weak – is trying to implement democratic reforms; and those efforts are often held back by unaccountable military and intelligence officials who are loath to cede their power to civilians. Rather than paint all institutions with the same broad brush, US officials should seek to strengthen civilian democratic institutions so that they can effectively reign in those parts of the military and intelligence services that are acting outside of civilian oversight.

Saleem Shahzad died trying to expose extremist influence in Pakistan’s security services. His death does not have to be in vain. At present, a Pakistani judicial commission is investigating the circumstances of Mr. Shahzad’s death; the next meeting is scheduled to be held in Islamabad on July 9th.

“The government” of Pakistan is a red herring in Shahzad’s murder. Though likely unintended, Adm. Mullen’s statement yesterday shifts focus away from those responsible. Rather than issue statements that can undermine the authority of the civilian government, US officials should present any evidence about the circumstances of Shahzad’s death to the commission and publicly support efforts by the civilian government to bring the ISI under the oversight of publicly accountable civilian leaders.

A Sense of Perspective on Intelligence Leaks

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that US officials are concerned after fresh evidence points to a leak in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the nation’s premier spy agency. According to a senior Pakistani military official who spoke with the Post, there is concern that someone within the agency may have tipped off militants about an upcoming operation.

“There is a suspicion that perhaps there was a tip-off,” the official said. “It’s being looked into by our people, and certainly anybody involved will be taken to task.”

This report has caused some to question whether Pakistan is a trustworthy ally in the fight against terrorism, or if the nation’s security services are playing a double-game against the US. While the possibility of a leak within the ISI is troubling, it is important to keep a sense of perspective when evaluating these reports and to refrain from tarring all of Pakistan’s security services with a broad brush.

As the rise of WikiLeaks has amply demonstrated, even the world’s most professional military can find itself infiltrated by an individual who takes it upon himself to reveal official secrets. Despite strict security clearance protocols, Pfc. Bradley Manning was allegedly able to leak over 90,000 secret military and diplomatic reports to the anti-secrecy website. And Manning is not the first American to leak classified information. In an ironic situation last month, a secret CIA memo warning agents about leaks…was leaked.

Clearly, there is a gulf of difference between leaking internal memos about protocol and tipping off enemy combatants about coming raids. But the US – as all nations have – has also had its share of double-agents. Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and Col. George Trofimoff all provided high-level intelligence to the KGB or the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Each of these men betrayed their country by passing secrets to the nation’s enemies. Each of them acted as a rogue double-agent, acting outside of and in opposition to official policy.

CIA director Panetta has traveled to Pakistan to meet with his counterparts there possibly to discuss, among other things, concerns about the possibility of a mole within the ISI. As reported by the Washington Post, Pakistani officials are taking the possibility seriously and working to identify any mole within their services. Having struggled with the problem of double-agents and intelligence leaks in the past, the US can provide important technical assistance to the Pakistani agencies to help ensure that operational security is maintained at all times. This will help ensure the success of future counter-terrorist operations. Casting unwarranted dispersion on a key ally will not.

Repeating Past Mistakes Will Repeat Past Failures

Sen. Carl Levin

Senator Carl Levin told Foreign Policy magazine’s blog ‘The Cable’ that lawmakers are considering scaling back civilian aid to Pakistan in the wake of the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Though Congress has concerns about the possibility of militant support networks within Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, however, lawmakers are not considering cuts to military, but civilian aid. According to Sen. Levin, helping develop a stable democracy in Pakistan is “also in our interest but not as clearly.”

A 1962 article for Foreign Affairs argues the opposite – that the shortest path to peace and stability is through strengthening civilian institutions, not military.

In this large context of peace and war, the fundamental aim of economic assistance is, therefore, to build up stability in unstable states. This cannot be done by piecemeal patching up, by casual subsidies and handouts. The most successful of all programs of economic aid so far-the Marshall Plan-clearly illustrates the need for change in depth. If the nations of Western Europe had simply been restored to where they were before the Second World War, they would inevitably have repeated yet again their melancholy inter-war cycle of economic isolationism and national rivalry. It was America’s insistence upon a joint solution of their problems that opened the era of technical modernization, supra-nationalism and interdependence. What has saved Europe has been not the reconstruction of the old order but the bold projection of a new.

We don’t have to go back to 1962 to understand the importance of investing in a strong and stable democratic Pakistan, and how disastrous it can be to turn our backs on the civilian institutions. In fact, we can look at a time as recently as the 1990s.

When President George H.W. Bush could no longer certify that Pakistan was not actively pursuing nuclear weapons, aid to Pakistan was suspended as required by the Pressler Amendment. Suspending aid to Pakistan may have made a moral point, but the practical result was to convince Pakistan that it’s national security would have to depend on options outside US cooperation. Rather than pushing Pakistan towards a policy of nonproliferation, cutting aid as India demonstrated nuclear capability likely increased Pakistan’s resolve to demonstrate it’s own nuclear deterrent.

The other byproduct of aid suspension was Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies looking more to irregular forces as a means of strengthening Pakistan’s defenses. It was terrible, but rational decision: If Pakistan could not count on the support of it’s ‘most allied ally’, it would have to find support where it could.

This scenario could easily repeat itself if Congress repeats this past mistake again.

“You risk undermining the whole edifice that the United States has been trying to support in Pakistan,” warned Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council, an independent policy institute.

Moreover, the U.S. aid lies at the heart of Obama’s strategy to help stabilize a deeply impoverished country of 170 million struggling with a growing Islamic insurgency, soaring ethnic and sectarian tensions, mounting joblessness and failing education, health, energy and other services.

US-Pakistan relations may be suffering from a severe trust deficit, but his lack of trust did not develop on May 1st or when Raymond Davis shot two men in the streets of Lahore. It is the result of past failures by US policymakers to foresee the inevitable perception among their Pakistani counterparts that the US could not be trusted to support them in their time of need.

Despite these setbacks and the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, today presents a unique opportunity to remedy past mistakes and help Pakistanis stabilize their young democracy. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his determination to reign in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency by placing it under civilian control, but as yet has not received the political support necessary to do so.

The discovery of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory has resulted in open discussion of a civilian inquiry by both coalition and opposition politicians in spite of insistence by military leaders for an internal review. In order for change to take place, however, the civilian institutions must have the support necessary to stand up to and reform the outsized influence of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies. Cutting civilian aid to Pakistan will only reinforce a failed status quo. The US should reaffirm it’s commitment to civilian democracy in Pakistan – the bold projection of a new order.

Thomas Friedman’s Woeful Misunderstanding of Pakistani Politics

Thomas FriedmanThomas Friedman on Sunday compared Pakistan’s ISI to Egypt’s Amn al Dowla, the security agency responsible for propping up Hosni Mubarak’s police state, and asks why the US continues to provide billions of dollars in assistance to Pakistan while we cheer the fall of autocratic regimes in the Arab world. Friedman troublingly mischaracterizes the relationship between the ISI and Pakistan’s civilian government, and his conclusion – that the US should cut aid to Pakistan – is ultimately misguided.

According to Friedman, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence “dominates Pakistani politics” and is “the twin of Hosni Mubarak’s security service.” This is fundamentally incorrect. While it’s true that Pakistan’s ISI plays a heavy hand in Pakistan’s domestic politics, unlike Mubarak’s use of Amn al Dowla to intimidate and oppress political opposition, Pakistan’s ISI operates largely outside the control of the civilian government.

Egypt under Hosni Mubarak would be better compared to Pakistan under Gen. Musharraf – an autocratic regime that used the looming threat of extremism and regional instability to extort support for its security services and the personal fortunes of its officers – not present day Pakistan. Democratic elections in 2008 brought to power a civilian government, but Pakistan’s military establishment was less sidelined than removed from the spotlight.

Unlike Egypt, Pakistan has a popularly-elected civilian government that is struggling to build power in a country dominated by a military-intelligence apparatus that operates outside of its control. Following a meeting between Pakistani cabinet officials and the head of ISI, one Pakistani newspaper reported that, one attendee “dared not be arbitrarily fired.” Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida described the power dynamic more bluntly:

By now the cat is out of the bag. When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

Thomas Friedman falsely equates the ISI with Pakistan’s government, but it is a well-known fact in Pakistan that the two are presently in competition for control of the nation. And the two sides in this competition are not equally resourced.

As described by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa in her book, Military Inc., Pakistan’s military dominates not only the nation’s security, but it’s economy as well, controlling much of the private sector and extensive land holdings. Pakistan’s parliament ostensibly controls the purse strings, but it is another accepted fact that the military sets its own budget. The military’s resources also include a massive patronage network, an established recruitment and command infrastructure, and the Inter-Services Public Relations agency – the intelligence agency’s propaganda wing.

Diverting aid from Pakistan will not weaken anti-democratic forces in the nation’s military establishment. It will, if anything, make it stronger and less pliable to pro-democracy influence. Nations such as China and Iran would quickly fill any military assistance void left by a diversion of US aid, and the civilian government would find itself without the leverage it needs to strengthen its hand in opposition to military influence over the nation’s foreign and domestic policy.

Even cuts that specifically target military aid would be counterproductive at this time. While it’s true that much of Pakistan’s military still sees India as the most pressing security issue, threats to cut military assistance are unlikely to change this perspective which has deep ideological and historical roots. Moreover, there are signs that the military’s strategic focus is beginning to change. Threats to cut aid are more likely to abort rather than encourage any reorientation and will be used to justify continued support for jihadi militant groups as irregular defense forces. This would be devastating.

As Pakistan’s President Zardari noted in The Washington Post,

Our nation is pressed by overlapping threats. We have lost more soldiers in the war against terrorism than all of NATO combined. We have lost 10 times the number of civilians who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Two thousand police officers have been killed. Our economic growth was stifled by the priorities of past dictatorial regimes that unfortunately were supported by the West. The worst floods in our history put millions out of their homes. The religious fanaticism behind our assassinations is a tinderbox poised to explode across Pakistan. The embers are fanned by the opportunism of those who seek advantages in domestic politics by violently polarizing society.

Pakistan today looks like what we may increasingly see emerge in countries like Egypt and Tunisia – military and intelligence establishments that, decoupled from civilian control, operate with their own agendas. They are states within states, operating without oversight or accountability. Mr. Friedman is correct that Egyptians and Tunisians will have to develop their own democracies, and this is exactly what the people of Pakistan are doing right now. We should not abandon them as they struggle to uproot the “deep state” and replace it with effective civilian democratic institutions.

Where Friedman is correct is in his recognition of the importance of investment that strengthens civilian governance and institutions. This is exactly what the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill passed in 2009 represents – a change in focus from supporting Pakistan’s military establishment to strengthening civilian institutions. Unfortunately, this aid is not being dispersed quickly enough to meet the nation’s needs.

According to a GAO report released earlier this year, only $179.5 million of $1.51 billion in US civilian aid to Pakistan was actually dispersed in 2010. The US should concentrate on finding ways to get this funding to projects that will make lasting improvements in the lives of Pakistanis and strengthen civilian governance in Pakistan.

Support for emerging democracies should not be played as a zero-sum game in which the latest entrant to the democratic community receives support at the expense of those that came before. Pakistan represents not the autocratic regimes of the past, but the delicate stage in democratic development during which nascent civilian governments attempt to supplant entrenched military and intelligence institutions.

Abandoning new allies as they struggle to secure civilian control will set back democratic progress for generations. Cutting aid to Pakistan would not weaken the nation’s “deep state” and promote democratic reform. More likely, it would be a catalyst for Pakistan to revert to a military state buttressed by a fundamentally anti-democratic ideology. If any outcome is “totally out of proportion…with our interests and out of all sync with our values”, it is this.

Democracy At Greatest Risk in Raymond Davis Affair

Anti-democratic groups protest in PakistanHeadlines across the world note that the diplomatic crisis resulting from Raymond Davis’s shooting of two men in Lahore last month is straining US-Pakistan ties. A month after the incident, a solution acceptable to both nations continues to be elusive. But something more fundamental than US-Pakistan relations is at great risk as positions harden – democracy in Pakistan.

Despite the nationalist sentiment surrounding the controversy, the fact is that US-Pakistan relations will only be affected at the political level. According to a report in Stars & Stripes, a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper, senior leaders of the US and Pakistani militaries held secret meetings at a secluded resort in Oman this week. The meetings were described by one attendee as “very candid and cordial, and very productive discussions.” Even a split between the CIA and the ISI would likely only temporary as all intelligence agencies must interact with each other in order to be effective. Regardless of popular political opinion, military and intelligence officials will continue to cooperate based on the nations’ mutual security interests.

But Pakistan’s civilian population, and the civilian government they elected, is far more vulnerable. The latest United Nations Human Development Report, released on Tuesday, found that 51 percent of Pakistanis are living in multidimensional poverty and 54 percent are suffering intense deprivation. Cutting aid to Pakistan would have devastating consequences, not for the entrenched military-intelligence establishment, but for the civilian government and the Pakistani people.

“There’s no choke on aid yet,” says a senior Pakistani official. But if the standoff continues, and especially if Davis is convicted, it could be reduced to a trickle. And that could have a potentially catastrophic impact on an economy threatened by hyperinflation and the devaluation of its currency in the coming months.

A civilian government unable to provide basic services, much less show an improvement in economic opportunity, would quickly find itself rejected by Pakistanis already frustrated with uncertain security and lagging economic progress. While it is unlikely that militant groups would have the resources or influence to fill the role of government nationwide, it could create an environment in which the military-intelligence establishment – until now content to sit on the sidelines – decides to intervene. Such an event would not only undo the progress towards a more just and democratic government made over the past three years, it could set back Pakistan’s democratic movement for a generation or more.

Thankfully, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley reiterated the Obama administration’s long-term commitment to the people of Pakistan on Wednesday by insisting that the White House is not considering cuts to aid.

“We’re building a strategic partnership with Pakistan. It’s important to the future of the region. It’s also important to the security of the United States. We are engaging Pakistan in good faith. We want to see this resolved as soon as possible so it does not become an impediment in our relationship and it does not measurably interfere with the work we are doing together in fighting extremism that threatens Pakistan and threatens us,” he said. “We are not contemplating any actions along those lines,” Crowley said when asked if the US government is considering curtailing any of its military or economic assistance to Pakistan over the Davis row.

Whatever the outcome of the Raymond Davis affair, it is certain to have implications far beyond the short-term cooperation between the CIA and the ISI. As political leaders and intelligence officials work to find a solution, we should all remember that Pakistan’s fragile democratic government, and the Pakistani people, stand to lose the most from deteriorating relations between our two countries.