Abubakar Farooqui

Hein G. Kiessling’s fascinating account of ISI’s development and history is a very precious addition to Intelligence studies. The German author is a political scientist as well as a historian who lived in Pakistan from 1989 to 2002. This stay included four years in Quetta and nine years in Pakistan. During this stay, the author managed to forge close contacts with the political and military elites of Pakistan.

He wrote the book after interviewing ISI’s powerful generals including Gen. HameedGul, Gen. Assad Durrani and Gen. Mehmood Ahmed. Collecting all the relevant information, he managed to analyze the world’s best Intelligence agency in depth. In his book, he focused ISI’s inception, foreign assistance and ISI’s role in Pakistan’s wars with India. He also explained ISI’s activities in India and Kashmir. The book provides an insight into ISI’s internal politics, its collaboration with the GHQ and its emergence as, not just a domestic but a global actor in the International realm after Afghan War.

The book states two reasons for the establishment of Inter-Services Intelligence in 1948. First, to plug the reconnaissance gaps that became in evident in 1947-1948 war in Kashmir. Second, Britain and USA feared the Soviet threat from North East, albeit this is a subtle reason but nevertheless, a contribution in establishment of the agency. ISI’s first DG Walter J. Cawthorne was an Australian born British General who was expert on Intelligence. He was greatly influential in setting up the initial structure of the ISI.

The ISI was to be an agency collaborating with three intelligence units from three military services, as evident from its name, i.e Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Army and Pakistan Navy. Its initial tasks included intelligence works outside Pakistan especially in Indian Occupied Kashmir and India. Additionally, it was also responsible for planning and co-ordination for first Pakistani Military Attache postings. Its domestic role confine to Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir Only.

ISI in the beginning fell under Ministry of Defence and reported to the prime minster, but as General Ayub Khan took over, he changed the reporting structure and then ISI reported directly to Chief Martial Law administrator himself. The book talks about creation of a Covert Action Division in the ISI during Ayub Era which was supposedly involved in assisting militancy in North-East India and then provided critical support to Sikh Insurgency in Indian Punjab in 1970s.

The ISI was to be an agency collaborating with three intelligence units from three military services, as evident from its name,

The book contends that 1965 war was a fiasco for the ISI although it had contacts in Occupied Kashmir as well as in India but as soon as Operation Grand Slam was launched, ISI contacts went underground. The ISI and MI both failed to retrieve critical enemy intelligence as both were, before the war, being used to monitoring Ayub’s political opponents. Keissling argues that ISI was blind in Eastern Wing as far as Bengali uprising was concerned in 1971 War however it was keeping good eye on New Delhi. This is the reason that ISI had been able to provide precise information about the forthcoming invasion on Pakistan in East.

During Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime, ISI’s budget was substantially increased and its head was given its third star. The morale of the Intelligence agency had been at its lowest after 1965 fiasco and 1971 defeat and these developments gave ISI a chance to rise. Bhutto also installed an ‘Internal Security Wing’ in the ISI to control domestic politics through it. In the same regime, Pakistan initiated its nuclear programme for which ISI played a key role in developing nuclear armament by procuring necessary technology from abroad.

During Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime, ISI’s budget was substantially increased and its head was given its third star

During Zia era, ISI became as the world’s most powerful intelligence agency. In 1979, DG ISI General AkhtarAbdurRehman suggested Zia to support Afghan Mujahideen otherwise Soviet controlled Afghanistan would sooner or later tempt Moscow to risk a march to the Indian Ocean. Zia consulted the heads of the military, the Foreign Office, the provincial governors and a number of other experts and counselors regarding the Afghan question. The majority was of the opinion that either Pakistan or Iran was the real target. Zia decided to go for Afghan adventure as he saw chance to stabilize and intensify relations with US and also become the champion of the Islamic world. The ISI developed closed cooperation with the CIA and never acted as a junior partner. The money and weapons given by the Americans to Taliban would always channel through ISI. The Pakistani premiere Intelligence Agency never allowed direct link between Taliban and the CIA as it wanted to drive the Afghan war as per its will and it did.

The book has a chapter on Foreign Policy and the ISI in which ISI’s control over the country’s foregin policy has been depicted taking 1990s as a case study. The Foreign Office during the era acted as spectator in the decision making. The influence of the ISI on foreign policy is revealed in the many postings of retired generals to diplomatic missions abroad. Keissling believes that the ISI and IB continue to send their own personnel undercover to foreign embassies. In many countries, the ISI representatives are officially accredited.

A chapter on insurgency in Indian Punjab describes ISI’s role and explains its activities via a newly created cell in support of Khalistan movement that channeled weapons and ammunition to the followers of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had emerged in the 1970s as the rising new star of Sikh militancy. Training camps were set up in Karachi and Lahore while on the Indo-Pakistan border Field Intelligence Units were the vectors of direct ISI support. The key insurgent groups assisted by ISI were the Khalistan Commando Force, the Bhindranwale Tiger Force, the Khalistan Liberation Force and the BabbarKhalsa. The Punjab Cell in ISI followed a three stage plan. In the first phase, the ISI would seek alienation of Sikh community from mainstream India. The second emphasized the need to incite mass Sikh agitation against India while the third marked the onset of violence in Punjab.

A chapter on insurgency in Indian Punjab describes ISI’s role and explains its activities via a newly created cell in support of Khalistan movement that channeled weapons and ammunition to the followers of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale

Kiessling does not only sing praises for the ISI, he does take into account the critiques too. For example, he believes that the ISI has been responsible for drug trafficking via Afghanistan and funds generated through this have been used to fund the Mujahideen. He also believes that drug trafficking has also contributed to Pakistan’s shadow economy. Similarly, the ISI has a regional network of militant proxies that are used as a tool of leverage against the USA and India in particular.

The book is an interesting read and has a lot to offer for the students of strategic studies as it describes the aims of the world’s number one Intelligence agency. It starts from ISI’s internal setup to external power projection not just domestically or regionally but globally. However, ISI has no global ambitions and its primary concern is the national security of Pakistan, a role which the premiere intelligence agency of world’s oldest Islamic Republic has fulfilled effectively.

About The Author
Abubakar Farooqui is serving as Director of Rationale-47. He Studied International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include National Security of Pakistan and International Politics, particularly of Afghanistan and Middle East. He tweets @AbubakarTweets


One thought on “Review | The ISI of Pakistan by Hein G. Kiessling

  1. ‘The German author is a political scientist as well as a historian who lived in Pakistan from 1989 to 2002. This stay included four years in Quetta and nine years in Pakistan’.

    In such long 13 years of stay in Pakistan, he could NOT know QUETTA is Capital city of Balochistan, a province of Pakistan NOT any separate entity from Pakistan. However, Indians long years plan of dismemberment of the country, if the worthy writer supports and is propagating is different thing.
    In known human history of 5,000 years of the region, it is first ever time that majority Hindu population first ever time in history got opportunity since 15th of August 1947 ONLY to rule ‘INDIA” as one legal entity – that was the time two countries were created Pakistan and India from the British colony of India captured from Muslims rule of 712 years. These were UZBEK Muslims which gradually captured/invaded today’s India or Hindustan and gave the present name.

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