If Bruce Riedel, chairman of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review, has a bottom line as to the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence’s relationship with extremist groups, it’s that such relationships are deliberately murky. ISI is not a “rogue intelligence agency,” he told a crowd last night at the International Spy Museum, but instead mostly follows the prerogatives of the ruling Pakistani military or civilian leadership. “Fighting some, tolerating others and patronizing a few” is how Riedel described ISI’s relationship with various Afghan and Pakistani extremist organizations, calling such difficult contortions a sign of a “remarkable agile espionage instrument.” In other words: don’t think ISI has a capabilities problem.
The most explicit client relationship ISI maintains with such groups is with the anti-Indian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. “Just this week, the Pakistanis allowed the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba … [to be] released from the farce of house arrest,” he said. “Tensions between India and Pakistan are going to go up this week because of that.” And while there aren’t indications that ISI operates in such a way with al-Qaeda or the Pakistani Taliban, the terrorist groups see little problem cooperating with one another.
Selective counterterrorism is weak counterterrorism, because the bad guys tend to operate together. For example, within the last several weeks, a major terrorist cell was exposed in the city of Karachi. The target was to go after senior officials in the city government. That cell had as its leadership a troika: one member of the Pakistani Taliban, one member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and one member of al-Qaeda. They are prepared to work together. They’re not prepared, so far at least, to turn on each other. … How long is Pakistan going to try and have it all ways at the same time?
For a while longer at least. Over at U.N. Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg interviewed Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, about the release of that Lashkar-e-Taiba leader, Hafiz Saeed. Haroon defended Saeed and denied that he’s a terrorist:
Are you familiar in any way with the work of Hafiz Saeed? He’s not LET. He’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah [a front group for the LET], and it’s a purely social organization. He works not for Islam alone but does charitable work around the world. … They run a very large myriad of institutions that in fact contribute to the social good. Now if you say, ‘ah, they have an ideological belief,’ well, I suppose they do, but that’s not enough to sink anyone.
It’s almost as if Haroon is forgetting that the reason Saeed was under house arrest was because evidence emerged tying him and the JUD to the Mumbai massacres last year. That’s why Riedel said his placement under house arrest was farcical.
“The ISI has clearly been penetrated by some of these extreme jihadist groups,” Riedel continued. “When you have attacks inside fortified compounds” — like the one last week in Lahore by the Pakistani Taliban in response to the Pakistani military’s offensive in Swat — “those are being done by someone who’s working a double game. But that doesn’t mean the agency itself is a rogue organization. It means it’s been penetrated.”
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