Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was created after the Military Intelligence (MI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) created just after the independence of Pakistan, were unable to meet the rigorous demands of coordinating intelligence with all the arms of the Armed Forces of Pakistan during the 1947-48 Kashmir War. Like all other institutions of this kind, there were teething problems. Unfortunately, after the advent of the first martial law in 1958, the military dictator, General Ayub Khan, tasked the ISI to monitor the politicians and the ISI had to digress from its main course. Thus it was unable to provide timely warning of the Indian attack on Pakistan in 1965. The 1971 Indian invasion of Pakistan and in its prelude, the Indian machination of hijacking its own aircraft to Lahore, setting it on fire, blaming Pakistan for the incident and using it as an excuse to cancel over-flight rights for Pakistani aircraft over Indian Territory to sever the eastern wing from the west were all conspiracies missed by ISI.
Following the 1971 debacle, ISI was reinvigorated and its first test came in 1979 when the USSR invaded Afghanistan. Acting in tandem with the CIA, ISI proved its mettle by organizing the Afghan resistance and training, equipping and launching the Afghan Mujahedeen. CIA, Mossad, MI-6 and RAW all acknowledged the professional acumen of ISI. Since then, the ISI has been providing yeoman services, guarding Pakistan’s national interests, at home and abroad.
Unfortunately, its rival secret agencies, named earlier realized that if Pakistan were to be destabilized or its nuclear weapons were to be compromised then degrading ISI was essential. Indian RAW was at the fore front in denigrating ISI. Various conspiracies were hatched to lower its esteem, disparage it in the international arena, simultaneously disgracing it with the Pakistani masses. Mumbai attack, Mehrangate, Memogate, Cross Border Terrorism, all elements of heinous plots were hatched, and along with an international media campaign to pour scorn on ISI was launched.
The Great Game in Afghanistan, with the US at the center stage, has India as a major player. The ISI is being blamed for having secret contacts with the Taliban and Al-Qaida as well as supporting the international forces i.e. running with the hare and hunting with the hounds or playing a double game. Unfortunately for Pakistan, India, which is a past master in the intricate art of spinning conspiracies, succeeded in promoting its narrative through selected Pakistani media houses. Most Pakistanis are diehard patriots but the same cannot be said for certain media houses, which are willing to sell their souls to Mephistopheles for self aggrandizement. Indians have been conniving to paint ISI as “a state within state” while insinuating that ISI was harboring terrorists. The case of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad was used to lend credence to the insinuation that ISI was a rogue agency. Domestic media, instead of countering Indian allegations against ISI, followed Indian themes and launched a media tirade against ISI. Journalists of the ilk of Hamid Mir et-al have echoed the same sentiments in their columns and talk shows. The unfortunate episode of the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir initially brought sympathy for him and ISI was blamed for the botched effort. Hamid Mir’s parent media organization, the Jang Group, which has a nexus with an Indian media group Times of India, has been running a campaign “Aman ki Asha” and it overextended its card, when it ran a whole gamut of media campaign to belittle ISI. This sorry episode exposed the real visage of the media group but some politicians taking sadistic pleasure in the ISI bashing joined the band wagon, without realizing that such castigation will damage the prestige of the national institution. Good sense prevailed at the highest level. PM Nawaz Sharif appreciated the role of ISI, declaring, “Government acknowledges the security institutions particularly role of ISI for ensuring defence, security and peace in the country”. This is a positive step to eulogize the secret agency in the wake of the Jang Group’s campaign against ISI. Patriotic Pakistani public feels that still much remains to be done in bolstering the ISI, as lethal propaganda against our spy agency is causing irreparable damage to Pakistan. Perhaps Pakistan needs to learn from Turkey and USA where spy agencies have been given additional powers to protect their national interests. President Abdullah Gul approved a law duly legislated by Turkish Parliament expanding the powers of MIT (Turkish spy agency) to tap private phone conversations and collect intelligence related to terrorism and international crime. The law also offered spy agency greater immunity from prosecution and provides for prison terms of up to 10 years for journalists and others who publish leaked information. This step was taken after media leaks embarrassed Turkish Government on the infamous Syrian predicament.
Similarly at the request of US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, US Senate removed a section from a crucial intelligence bill that would have required the White House to disclose information on those killed by US drone strikes overseas. This has been done to provide protection to CIA for using drones to kill combatants and noncombatants. The sole super power USA could not afford to expose the vulnerabilities of CIA and therefore the legislation was lobbied to promulgate laws to protect their intelligence agency vis-à-vis democratic means.
It is relevant to ask the Human Rights campaigners as to why they chose to remain oblivious of the Turkish legislations and the Bill passed by US Senators to protect their spy agencies? The answer is simple these powers give top priority to their national interests, whereas the media stalwarts and self-styled media pundits in Pakistan openly question the national interest of Pakistan? In this regard media and civil society must appreciate that ISI was established to safeguard the sovereignty of Pakistan and will continue to do so. It has made tremendous sacrifices but remained an unsung hero. Some media groups planning the downfall of ISI should think twice about it. It takes mammoth effort to build an institution like ISI but minutes to destroy it.