Spy Chief’s Visit to Washington May Undermine Pakistan’s Democratic Government’s Influence
Pakistan’s spy chief Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam has drawn enormous media attention during his first official visit to Washington D.C. This reception is indeed far warmer than what was accorded to President Asif Ali Zardari in May during the Chicago Summit. So, what has changed since May? Has the United States softened its policy toward Pakistan or has the latter finally decided to remain Washington’s faithful ally in the final phase of the war in Afghanistan? Well, none of the above is true.
Mr. Islam heads Pakistan’s rogue spy agency called the Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.). If the military runs a state within the Pakistani state then the I.S.I. runs a much deeper state even within the country’s military. Domestically, the I.S.I. is blamed for engineering elections, forming political parties and distributing funds among loyal-to-the-military candidates during election campaigns. On the external front, the I.S.I. has the final word in determining Pakistan’s foreign policy; it is known for arming extremist Islamic groups like the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba to cause trouble inside Afghanistan and India.
Senior American officials have also blamed the I.S.I. for supporting sections of Taliban, such as the Haqqani Network, which often attacks American interests in Afghanistan. Last year, Admiral Mike Mullen, the then the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told US Senate Armed Services Committee that the Haqqani Network acted as a “veritable arm” of the I.S.I. The spy agency was also instrumental in blocking supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan for at least seven months.
During his visit to Washington, the I.S.I. chief is not going to face much criticism or pressure from American authorities as they know that this man can cause enormous damage to U.S.-Pakistan relations if he is not treated properly. With Pakistan’s willingness to reopen NATO supplies and broker a new deal with the United States to allow uninterrupted ground access to Afghanistan until 2015 is a remarkable achievement for the Americans to suffice for at least near future. After a decade of constant engagement with Pakistan, the Americans have learned one lesson: You can’t force Pakistan to work as an ally.
The I.S.I. chief has not come to Washington to give up his organization’s links with Islamic terrorist groups or the consistent demand that the U.S. should abandon the drone program. What he intends to achieve is to repair the Pakistani military’s relations with the United States to such a degree that the civilian government is kept at arm’s length vis-à-vis relations to the United States. The Pakistani military has staged an extraordinary comeback in the country’s politics, the only exception being a change in the approach to directly taking control of power.
The military is mindful of increased demands in the U.S., mainly in the policy world, to support civilians in Pakistan. A part of this demand comes as the culmination of American frustration with the Pakistani military’s double standards but civilian assistance is also seen as a long-term investment in stabilizing and democratizing Pakistan. While generals in Pakistan look at American military assistance as oxygen for their survival, they also view enhanced cooperation between Washington and the democratic government as a potential tool for democratic rebellion against the military and reinforcement of civilian supremacy.
The exotic resistance the Pakistani military offered to the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar civilian assistance package in 2009 confirmed that the military endorses Pakistan’s friendly relations with Washington only on its own terms.
The extraordinary importance given to the I.S.I. chief in Washington is indeed damaging for Pakistan’s democratic government. The United States should work more closely with civilians instead of the head of an organization that has long been blamed for sponsoring Islamic extremist groups and weakening (and often derailing) the democratic system. Pakistan’s biggest challenge at this point is to curtail the political role of the army and the intelligence agencies. In addition, the civilians also do not share the military’s confrontational world vision which leads their country to isolation from the rest of the world.
This article was originally published in My Telegraph, UK