t's blame Pakistan week. As resistance to western occupation of Afghanistan intensifies, the increasingly frustrated Bush administration is venting its anger against Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's military intelligence agency.
The White House leaked claims ISI was in cahoots with pro-Taliban groups in Pakistan's tribal area along the Afghan border.
Pakistan's Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said the White House accuses ISI of warning Pashtun tribes of impending U.S. air attacks. President George W. Bush angrily asked Pakistan's visiting Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani, "Who's in charge of ISI?"
In Ottawa, the Harper government dutifully echoed Bush's accusation against Pakistan, including the so far unsubstantiated claim that ISI agents had bombed India's embassy in Kabul.
I was one of the first western journalists invited into ISI headquarters in 1986. ISI's then director, the fierce Lt.- Gen. Akhtar Rahman, personally briefed me on Pakistan's secret role in fighting Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. ISI's "boys" provided communications, logistics, heavy weapons, and direction in the Afghan War. ISI played the key role in the victory over the Soviets.
On my subsequent trips to Pakistan I was routinely briefed by succeeding ISI chiefs and joined ISI officers in the field, sometimes under fire.
ISI is accused of meddling in Pakistani politics. The late Benazir Bhutto, who often was thwarted by Pakistan's spooks, always scolded me, "you and your beloved generals at ISI." But before Musharraf, ISI was the Third World's most efficient, professional intelligence agency. It defends Pakistan against internal and external subversion by India's powerful spy agency, RAW, and by Iran. ISI works closely with CIA and the Pentagon, but also must serve Pakistan's interests, which often are not identical to Washington's.
The last ISI director general I knew was the tough, highly capable Lt.-Gen. Mahmood Ahmed. He was purged by the new dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, because Washington felt Mahmood was insufficiently responsive to U.S. interests. Ensuing ISI directors were all pre-approved by Washington. All senior ISI veterans deemed "Islamist" or too nationalistic by Washington were purged, leaving ISI's upper ranks top heavy with yes men and paper passers.
Even so, there is strong opposition inside ISI to Washington's bribing and arm-twisting the Musharraf dictatorship into waging war against fellow Pakistanis and gravely damaging Pakistan's national interests.
ISI's primary duty is defending Pakistan. Pashtun tribesmen on the border sympathizing with their fellow Taliban Pashtun in Afghanistan are Pakistanis. Many, like the legendary Jalaluddin Haqqani, are old U.S. allies and freedom fighters from the 1980s.
Violence and uprisings in these tribal areas are not caused by "terrorism," but directly result from the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan and Washington's forcing the hated Musharraf regime to attack its own people.
ISI is trying to restrain pro-Taliban Pashtun tribesmen while dealing with growing U.S. attacks into Pakistan that threaten a wider war.
India, Pakistan's bitter foe, has an army of agents in Afghanistan and is arming, backing and financing the Karzai puppet regime in Kabul. Pakistan's historic strategic interests in Afghanistan have been undermined by the U.S. occupation. The U.S., Canada and India are trying to eliminate Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.
ISI, many of whose officers are Pashtun, has every right to warn Pakistani citizens of impending U.S. air attacks that kill large numbers of civilians.
But ISI also has another vital mission. Preventing Pakistan's Pashtun (15% to 20% of the population of 165 million) from rekindling the old "Greater Pashtunistan" movement calling for union of the Pashtun tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan -- divided by British imperialism -- into a new Pashtun nation. That would tear apart Pakistan and invite Indian military intervention.
Washington's bull-in-a-china-shop behaviour pays no heeds to such realities.
Instead, Washington demonizes faithful old allies, ISI and Pakistan, while supporting Afghanistan's communists and drug dealers, and allowing India to stir the Afghan pot -- all for the sake of new energy pipelines.
As Henry Kissinger cynically noted, being America's ally is more dangerous than being its enemy.
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