By Daniel Larison
Despite its great importance for U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region, the failed, rather clumsy attempt by the Pakistani civilian government to rein in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and place it under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior has not received nearly as much comment as it should. Coming in the wake of the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul earlier this month, which was backed by elements within the ISI (detailed in the 7/28 TAC print edition), and the recent coordinated bombings in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, both the issuing and the reversal of the administrative order are particularly ominous. Having attempted to assert control and been rebuffed under pressure from the military, the civilian government has shown its limitations and exposed itself to a backlash from the same forces that are trying to foment disorder in Afghanistan and India. The inability of Gilani's government to control the ISI is at the heart of the ongoing threat to the security of Afghanistan and the unreliability of Pakistan as an effective ally.
In The Times of India, Prof. Sumit Ganguly of Indiana-Bloomington describes the extent of the problem:
The Pakistani military having wielded decades of political power has weakened every other institution within the Pakistani state. In aggrandising its extraordinary prerogatives from Ayub Khan to Yahya Khan to Zia-ul-Haq and most recently, Pervez Musharraf, it has used the ISI to serve a variety of political ends well beyond the tasks of espionage and counter-intelligence. Consequently, any civilian regime hoping to make the organisation more accountable will first have to think about how best to limit the privileges of the Pakistani army.
Until they can devise some institutional means to make the army more accountable to civilian authority, any attempts to control the activities of the ISI will not only be futile but dangerous.
The situation also calls for a reassessment of U.S. policies that disregard Pakistani sovereignty, whether they are advanced by President Bush or Sen. Obama, not least since PM Gilani has already declared this unacceptable. Any association of his government with compromises of Pakistani sovereignty will further undermine civilian rule. The recent attacks against Indian interests should also cause us to remember that the Pakistani military itself, and not simply rogue elements in the ISI, have been diverting American military aid to building up its conventional forces against India. If the Pakistani military continues to use U.S. support in this way and if elements within the ISI continue to exploit the "war on terror" to pursue an anti-Indian agenda at the expense of U.S. interests, Washington will need to reconsider the level of military aid our government provides and Pakistan's formal status as a major non-NATO ally.
Cross-posted at Eunomia