Pakistan: Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
ISI is widely regarded as the “deep state” of Pakistan. It is a powerful but opaque intelligence service that controls the nation’s substantial nuclear arsenal and organizes its relations with jihadist organizations in Kashmir and Afghanistan. ISI has extraordinary influence over Pakistan’s elected government.
The ISI, founded upon the creation of Pakistan in 1948, gained global prominence in the 1980s when it sponsored Afghan insurgents fighting the Soviet-backed government. In the words of American journalist Steve Coll: “ISI was instrumental in supporting seven Sunni Muslim mujahideen groups in their jihad against the Soviets and was the principal conduit of covert US and Saudi funding. It subsequently played a pivotal role in the emergence of the Taliban.”
The strategy of employing Islamist militant proxies to promote Pakistan’s perceived interests, mainly vis-à-vis India, continues. Over the past decade, the ISI has repeatedly been accused by the United States and India of actively supporting Afghan insurgents with money, supplies, and planning guidance.
After U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden in his family compound in Abbottabad Pakistan in 2011, ISI officials denied knowing that bin Laden was living there, a claim that U.S. officials find unbelievable. Nonetheless, the ISI maintains close relations with the American CIA, because of the country’s strategic importance.
ISI has long maintained relations with the Taliban movement which ousted the U.S. backed government in Kabul in August 2021. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, which reliably reflects the view of U.S. policymakers, ISI has “supported the Taliban from their inception with money, training, and weaponry. The ISI also maintains strong ties with the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, a militant group that works closely with the Taliban. (Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, has also been a deputy leader of the Taliban since 2015.) The Taliban own real estate in Pakistan and receive large donations from private individuals in the country.”
“The war in Afghanistan is over,” declared an editor at Dawn, a Pakistani daily. “Pakistan won,” The Taliban’s victory was a victory for ISI, agreed the New York Times. But Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington from 2008 to 2011, warned, ” A Taliban takeover will leave Pakistan more vulnerable to extremism at home and potentially more isolated on the world stage,” he wrote.
When Prime Minister Imran Khan sought to retain ISI chief Faiz Hameed beyond the usual two-year appointment in October 2021, he triggered a political crisis in Islamabad. Khan’s move was widely interpreted as a bid to establish civilian supremacy over the Pakistani military powerful spy service. The impasse ended when Khan appointed Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed Anjum as ISI’s director general.
ISI in Urdu: پاکستان: انٹر- سروسز انٹلی جینس (آئی ایس آئی)