ISI’s paramount role in Pak national security
RECENTLY, Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence service (ISI) is ranked one of the top intelligence services in the world.
To acquire this credit, the ISI has demonstrated a paragon of multidimensional professional capabilities in curbing internal and external security threats that have been intermittently posed to Pakistan.
Needless to say, traditional or non-traditional threats to our national security — posed from within and above — are equally gauged and monitored by the Inter-services Intelligence Agency (ISI).
As a national security agency, the role demonstrated by the ISI seems to have been multi-dimensional, this is why the anti-Pakistan foreign agencies make unwarranted criticism against it.
Formed by the then Major General Shahid Hamid (who was Secretary to the then C-in-C, FM Sir Claude Auchinleck, in 1948 in Karachi, the ISI grew its professional skill enhancement proficiently with the passage of time.
For decades, as one of the leading components of our national security, the ISI has played its pivotal role during both war and peace times.
The input — shared by the ISI — has a strong bearing on Islamabad’s national security and foreign policy.
Thus, it is a major decision influencing element in process of national decision making. Counter intelligence role: Combating external and domestic threats remains the pivot of the ISI: The external threats are mostly referred as the hostile governments’ orchestrated agenda in terms of terrorism, espionage, proliferation and cybercrime, whereas threats to our domestic security are referred as threats posed by non-state actors, including economic disarray and irregularities.
The national intelligence agency plays a vigilant role in combating all multifarious challenges — exclusively posed to Pakistan by India’s RAW.
Constructing a robust national narrative on extremism, sectarianism, terrorism and militancy is the cornerstone of an ideological response to non-traditional threats.
The ISI is the mentor of this narrative which is essential for a diverse society. The key stakeholders for constructing and disseminating this national narrative are none but the religious scholars, educationists and the intelligentsia.
Thus, the promotion of NACTA role is respectively coordinated with the Ministry of the Interior, including the ISI.
The role against terrorism or counterterrorism: The ISI is operationally responsible for gathering, processing and analyzing information relevant for national security from around the world.
As one of the principal members of the Pakistani intelligence community, the ISI reports to its director-general and is primarily focused on providing intelligence for the government of Pakistan.
The ISI coordinates the functioning of the intelligence directorates of the armed forces and is the sole organisation for collection of military and external intelligence.
In terms of national security, the ISI is an organic limb of Pakistan’s Army. Since the US waged war on terror in Afghanistan, ISI became an important source of combating terrorism in the region- a role that has been fairly admitted by the foreign missions and militaries.
Ever since 2001, Agency’s intelligence efforts not only focus on identifying threats to the United States and its citizens and facilities abroad, but also frequently providing warning to other countries of terrorist activities within their territory.
Sadly, despite its magnificent role, the ISI has been the target of an unfair criticism. It is wrongly alleged that Pakistan’s army Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) has backed the Taliban since the group’s origin in the mid-1990s.
But the fact on the ground strongly suggests that it was the US’ CIA support that intrinsically generated the extremist ideology in the Afghan society that the West utilized an as important tool against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89).
Irrefutably, since 2001, the ISI has been regularly imparting its role in exterminating terrorist elements in Afghanistan.
Noteworthy, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), ‘’The ISI and the Pakistani military have worked effectively with the United States to pursue the remnants of Al-Qaeda’’.
Since the US-waged war on terror in Afghanistan, ISI became an important source of combating terrorism in the region, it is still engaged in terminating the threat of radical and extremism.
Role in anti-narcotics: For more than three decades of conflict in Afghanistan—the opium trade has become deeply embedded in the politics of the region.
Key players and families tied to opium smuggling, trafficking routes, and methods of laundering drug money have remained remarkably unchanged.
The challenge of extremism accompanied by narcotic trade remained gigantic in the Pak-Afghan terrain.
Therefore, the ISI has tried its level best— to prevent the expansion of international organized crime—by becoming the custodian of ananti-narcotic regime in Pakistan.
The growing economic intelligence role: The widespread spectrum of internal threats is a critical impediment to economic development and social cohesion.
Traditionally, the entire internal security apparatus acts in a reactive rather than proactive manner.
In the absence of an integrated internal security response, the terrorists succeed in accomplishing their ulterior agenda against our national integration and economic betterment of the people of Pakistan.
Against this backdrop, the ISI role towards economic counterterrorism remains constantly evolving and enhancing.
With Pakistan’s listing in FATF’s grey list in 2018, the ISI Intelligence Community has been extensively and profoundly engaged in preventing economic irregularities in the country, thereby coordinating with the FIA, the NAB and other agencies by gathering and analyzing necessary economic information data.
This ascribed role focused on those areas that could affect Pakistan’s national interests, including the economies of foreign countries.
The role in revitalizing federation of Pakistan: Integrating the federal units remains one of the greatest tasks posed to the ISI.
The first ever National Internal Security Policy (NISP) formulated in 2014 is to protect national interests of Pakistan by addressing critical security issues as well as concerns of the nation.
It is based upon principles of mutual inclusiveness and integration of all national efforts and includes three elements viz i) dialogue with all stakeholders, ii) isolation of terrorists from their support systems, iii) enhancing deterrence and capacity of the security apparatus to neutralise the threats to internal security of Pakistan.
This requires integrated efforts through an institutionalized monitoring framework under democratic leadership to elicit support and cooperation of local and international stakeholders.
Therefore, the ISI is ardently committed to imparting this challenge. Thus, it seems warranted to conclude that as an important wing of our national security architecture— the role played by the ISI is par excellence given the dynamics of emerging security challenges posed to Pakistan.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law. He deals with the strategic and nuclear issues.