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Pakistan's shadowy secret service


Sep 23, 2006
Pakistan's directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, usually called the ISI, is accused of many vices.

Critics say it runs "a state within a state", subverts elected governments, supports the Taleban and is even involved in drug smuggling.

Pakistan's government denies the allegations.

Like many other military intelligence organisations, the shadowy ISI zealously guards its secrets and evidence against it is sketchy.

However, the agency is a central organ of Pakistan's military machine which has played a major - often dominant - role in the country's often turbulent politics.


The ISI was established in 1948 - as Pakistan engaged India in the first war over Kashmir - to be the top body co-ordinating the intelligence functions of its army, air force and navy.

The ISI co-ordinated the action of several hundred thousand [anti-Soviet] fighters in great secrecy

In the 1950s, when Pakistan joined anti-communist alliances, its military services and the ISI received considerable Western support in training and equipment.

The ISI's attention was focused on India, considered Pakistan's arch-enemy.

But when Ayub Khan, the army commander-in-chief, mounted the first successful coup in 1958, the ISI's domestic political activities expanded.

As a new state bringing together diverse ethnic groups within what some described as contrived borders, Pakistan faced separatist challenges - among Pashtuns, Balochis, Sindhis and Bengalis.

Much of the country's early history was shaped by politicians seeking regional autonomy and the central civilian and military bureaucracies trying to consolidate national unity.

The ISI not only mounted surveillance on parties and politicians, it often infiltrated, co-opted, cajoled or coerced them into supporting the army's centralising agenda.

Defeat and disgrace

The army ran the country from 1958 to 1971, when East Pakistan broke away with Indian and Soviet help to become Bangladesh.

Gen Zia ul-Haq helped the US against the Soviets in Afghanistan

The ISI and the Pakistani military were thoroughly discredited and marginalised after the war.

But they gained fresh purpose in 1972 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the new civilian leader, launched a clandestine project to build nuclear weapons.

A year later military operations were launched against nationalist militants in Balochistan province.

These two events helped rehabilitate the ISI and the military.

After Bhutto was ousted by General Zia ul-Haq in 1977, the Balochistan operations were ended but the nuclear programme was expanded.

The Marxist revolution in Afghanistan in the same year threatened Pakistan by opening a second "strategic front" (the first being with India to the east).

The ISI was restored to its past eminence.

Secret funding

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 transformed the regional setting.

President Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, built a Western-Muslim coalition with Britain, France, West Germany, China, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates playing key roles.

Revolutionary Iran offered some aid to anti-Soviet guerrillas in western Afghanistan.

But all other foreign assistance to the mujahideen arrived via Pakistan, to be handled by the ISI whose Afghan Bureau co-ordinated all operational activities with the seven guerrilla militias.

This was done in such secrecy that the Pakistani military itself was kept in the dark.

Just to get a sense of the scale of the operation - the CIA provided enough arms to equip a 240,000-man army, and the Saudis matched US funding dollar for dollar.

Other countries provided arms and money and Muslim countries also encouraged volunteers to join the jihad or holy war.

Mujahideen role

Foreign money helped to establish hundreds of madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan's cities and frontier areas.

Gen Musharraf denies the ISI is backing the Taleban

These turned out thousands of Taleban (students) who joined the mujahideen in the anti-Soviet campaign.

The ISI managed this operation, handling tens of thousands of tons of ordnance every year and co-ordinating the action of several hundred thousand fighters in great secrecy.

Eventually, in 1988, the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its forces by 1989, and did so.

This was seen as a great victory for the mujahideen and their patrons in Pakistan and farther afield, and a trigger for the subsequent Soviet collapse.

This is why Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf feels it necessary to defend the ISI.

He has pointed out that the West backed the mujahideen, which went on to engender groups like al-Qaeda and the Taleban in the post-Soviet violence which consumed Afghanistan and brought about the US-led "war on terror".

Following the attacks of 11 September, 2001, Gen Musharraf has sought to rid the military, including the ISI, of Islamists within its ranks - a hangover from the Zia era.

Elements in the military have been accused of complicity in failed attempts on his life.

Pakistani government and ISI support for militant groups who left Afghanistan to fight Indian rule in Kashmir has been the cause of much friction with India.

India has repeatedly accused Pakistan, and especially the ISI, of involvement in Kashmir and in attacks elsewhere in India.



Sep 23, 2006
Nato to press Pakistan on Taleban

Gen Richards fears Afghans may begin supporting the Taleban
Nato's commander in Afghanistan is in Pakistan amid accusations by Afghan politicians that the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, is helping the Taleban.
Gen David Richards, a British officer, is expected to meet President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday.

Gen Musharraf has denied claims the ISI is indirectly aiding the Taleban.

Gen Richards has warned that the majority of Afghan people may start to support the Taleban unless their lives improve in the next six months.

He assumed responsibility for foreign military operations across the whole of Afghanistan from the US-led coalition last week.

Nato forces in the south are facing mounting casualties as they engage in fighting with a resurgent Taleban.

'Excellent job'

The allegations over ISI support for the Taleban resurfaced at the end of September.

Leak highlights complex ties

A leaked document prepared by an official in the Defence Academy, a think-tank linked to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), said the ISI indirectly backs terrorism by supporting religious parties in Pakistan.

The MoD says the views included in the paper are not those of the author, the think-tank or the British government.

Gen Musharraf denied the allegations and said Pakistan was doing an "excellent job" in tracking down militants.

Tuesday's meeting comes after President Musharraf suggested during his recent US tour that a "counter strategy" may be needed in Afghanistan - which was regarded as an attempt to accommodate the Taleban.

The BBC's Ilyas Khan in Karachi says this option has been favoured by the president since the government's agreement with the tribal militants in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan on 5 September.

Cross-border incursions

President Musharraf has been publicly urging the Afghan government to replicate the agreement in the country's troubled south.

However, the Afghan government and western diplomats are reported to be lukewarm towards the plan.

Nato troops are reported to have engaged in more heavy fighting

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he wants to hold a jirga (council) of Pashtun tribes from Pakistan and Afghanistan to end Taleban violence.

Afghan officials have frequently accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop cross-border incursions by militants, charges Pakistan denies.

In the latest violence, police in the southern province of Urzgan say that at least 50 Taleban insurgents were killed in a clash on Sunday night.

Police say they were aided in the fighting by Nato forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA), and that only one Afghan soldier was injured.

However a man claiming to be a spokesman for the Taleban said that 20 Nato and ANA soldiers were killed, with the loss of only five Taleban members.

Correspondents say that it is impossible to confirm the casualty figures provided by either side.

In another incident, police in the eastern province of Ningarhar say that the district governor, the district police chief and the deputy district police chief were killed along with at least two other people in a bomb blast on Monday morning.



Mar 24, 2006
Two things.

A good secret service has to be dodgy and is no saint. The activities of the ISI would hold no cake when compared to agencies like CIA or the KGB.

Also the fears of Gen Richards that the Taliban movement might become a people's movement is not something new. Musharraf came the US and warned about this some weeks ago.

The Taliban have to at some point be fixed, engaged and dealt with non-militarily to be included into the process and not be aimed to be eliminated, since they are pretty much going to be the people and you cannot eliminate a local population.


Oct 8, 2005
If you people didnt realize yet the taliban is already a people movement. The US might as well leave Afghanistan know



New Recruit

Nov 1, 2005
The meeting came amid claims that Pakistan's spy agency, ISI, is helping the Taleban, which Pakistan denies.

Gen Richards has warned that the majority of Afghans may start to support the Taleban unless their lives improve in the next six months.
When that happens, it will be a very bitter pil for the US/Nato to swallow.
Iraq is already in middle of a civil war, Afghanistan may start soon fighting the allied forces under Taleban.


Sep 23, 2006
Whatever blames & accusations ISI maybe facing right now, Pakistan should not be defencive and apologetics . The west is badley failing in Iraq and Afganistan and now looking for another scapegoat.


Mar 24, 2006
Thing is unlike Iraq, I doubt they'd be able to convince the Hazaras to pick up AK's and fight against the Pashtuns like they divided up Shias and Sunnis.

Hazaras are more of the business minded variety or spend their time chasing women.

Spring Onion

Feb 1, 2006
Who are the Taliban ? that is teh question which has been micinterpreted by most of the powers the world over.

The term has been misused. As many memebrs said Talibvan is already people's movement and has anyone of you ever think or know how it was started ??

As far the problem facing NATO is also due to common Afghans support against NATO's aggression.

Just few days back i was talking to an Afghan Journalist who works in Kabul, i asked him about the Suicide bombing and reasons and why it was on the rise,

He replied that most of nagtive Afghans were supporting attacks against NATO forces morally and they dont disclose information about presence of elements who are against foreighn occupation. He was of the view that Karzai government has lost support among common Afghans who's lives are still passing through same destruction.

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