Pakistani Intelligence Behaving Badly

Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt report on evidence that Pakistan's ISI helped plan the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul which is pretty distressing:

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.

Kevin Drum says "I'm not absolutely certain who my choice for scariest group in the world is, but if push came to shove it probably wouldn't be al-Qaeda. It would be the ISI, Pakistan's main intelligence service." Kevin and I were actually both part of a conversation at Netroots Nation where a third party argued that people feel Pakistan is terrifying because few people in the United States know anything about Pakistan or understand it. I countered that the very low level of knowledge about Pakistan in the United States is what makes it so scary on the merits. We're a very rich and powerful country and our wealth and might gives us a lot of ability to shape events in a favorable way. But that only works if we actually know what's going on -- in the absence of meaningful information, our power is useless.

The other smart thing, related, that somebody said to me recently about Pakistan is that Americans need to realize that all the stuff we care about is a secondary consideration over there. We think about Pakistan and its neighborhood primarily through the lens of al-Qaeda with other organizations defined by their relationship to al-Qaeda. The Taliban helps al-Qaeda and that's bad. Hamid Karzai fights the Taliban (which helps al-Qaeda) and that's good. When ISI helped the Taliban, that was bad. When Pakistan "flipped" and helped us establish Karzai, that was good. But when they fight Karzai (who fights the Taliban who help al-Qaeda) that's bad. This is how we order events and think about things.

But in Pakistan, the first, second, and third priority is India. Al-Qaeda, the United States, the Taliban, Karzai, warlords, the Northern Alliance, "militants," and so forth are only important insofar as they relate to India. To write about Pakistani intelligence "actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region" is to impose an America-centric frame on things. It makes it out as if Pakistani intelligence is waking up and thinking about American efforts to combat militants in the region, and then deciding to actively undermine them. More likely, they wake up and think about ways to undermine Indian efforts to expand influence in the region. If that means undermining American efforts, then our efforts are undermined.

Now where does that leave us? Unfortunately, it's hard to say. But reading Brian Katulis would be a good start.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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