According to the NY Times on Friday, “American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.” The news agency added,
The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region. The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The Pakistani government, not surprisingly, “angrily denied” the allegations, reported the Associated Press. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq told the AFP, “It’s rubbish. We totally deny it…This is a baseless allegation that the New York Times keeps on recycling using anonymous sources. These stories always die afterwards because there is no proof.” The AFP also cited statements by military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, who called the report, “malicious propaganda,” meant to defame the ISI. His statements were similar to those made on Wednesday, following another NY Times piece reporting that a top CIA official had traveled to Islamabad “to confront Pakistan’s most senior officials with new information about ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” [see related CHUP piece].
Although Islamabad dismissed the ISI-related accusations on Wednesday, media outlets reported today that some political figures were more diplomatic in their reactions. According to the AP, while government spokeswoman Sherry Rehman emphasized that there was “no proof” of the ISI’s involvement in the Indian embassy bombing, she conceded that there were “probably” individuals in the intelligence agency working against official policy. The news agency labeled this statement, “the first acknowledgment from Pakistan’s new government that Taliban sympathizers may lurk in the agency.” Rehman told reporters that authorities “need to identify these people and weed them out.”
BBC News on Friday also reported on Rehman’s statements. BBC correspondent Syed Shoaib Hasan noted it was the first time a government official had talked about the ISI in this manner. The news agency added, “In the past, President Pervez Musharraf has said that former intelligence officials – including those from the ISI – have given support to militants but he was careful to stress that they did not include serving personnel.”
Although Rehman noted that “authorities” need to identify these officials and weed them out, media outlets did not indicate whether the government would initiate any specific action against the ISI. The Daily Times reported Friday that PM Gilani made an equally ambiguous statement, noting, “We still have to look into [the accusations]. … It will be resolved.”
As so often occurs, vague allegations by unnamed officials are met with equally vague responses. Given the power tussle over the ISI that we saw last weekend, I wonder exactly how much can be done to rein in an intelligence agency that has operated as a “state within a state” for such a long period of time. Although the government previously attempted to shift the ISI under civilian control, the move was met with such swift criticism that it undermined rather than strengthened the coalition’s authority.
The U.S. allegation that Pakistan aided the Indian embassy attack will also hold major ramifications for India-Pakistan relations. Although bilateral ties between the two countries were arguably improving, tensions became strained after the July 7 bombing in Kabul, when India accused “elements of Pakistan” of being behind the attack, asserting that their relations had been put “under stress.” This past week, “Indian and Pakistani soldiers fired at each other across the Kashmir frontier for more than 12 hours overnight Monday, in what the Indian Army called the most serious violation of a five-year-old cease-fire agreement,” reported the NY Times. On the subject of these latest rumors, an “unnamed” U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal, “The Indians are absolutely convinced it’s true, and they’re right.” Amid these rising tensions, Gilani and Indian PM Manmohan Singh will meet on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit opening this Saturday, in what The News called, “the highest-level interaction between the two countries in 15 months.” [Left image from AFP]
Nevertheless, these recent developments, compounded with a deterioration in Pakistan-India relations, U.S.-Pakistan tensions, and Afghanistan-led accusations, are also problematic from a geostrategic perspective. India and Afghanistan, as is evident in the attached map, border Pakistan on both sides. The exacerbation of tensions with our country’s two neighbors (further compounded by India and Afghanistan’s ever-increasing friendship) will only add to pressures on Islamabad to efficiently handle this militancy problem. The question, of course, is, how? Can Pakistan’s civilian government, already crippled by internal power struggles and inter-coalition disputes, be able to tackle these issues in a way that it can still preserve these fragile alliances? More importantly, should Pakistan care? In a country where anti-American sentiment is on the rise, questions on how to balance Pakistan’s international demands with its internal problems will no doubt become increasingly complicated.
Below is a BBC photograph of a Pakistani lorry [allegedly] with a portrait of Osama bin Laden driving around Islamabad. Just some more interesting food for thought: