- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Mir Amal Kasi died more than a week ago in a Virginia execution chamber, rather than surviving to gloat over his murder of CIA officers outside the Agency's headquarters compound. Ramzi Yusuf, the mastermind of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, lives in the Metropolitan Corrections Center in New York City, rather than being free to plot more mayhem. Senior al Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi bin Al-Shibh and hundreds of their subordinates are in U.S. custody, rather than planning for more terror. The government in Afghanistan is friendly to the United States and does not harbor terrorist organizations dedicated to our destruction. More strategically important, the Soviet Union no longer exists as a threat to our very existence.

These are all unquestionably welcome developments that share a common characteristic. None of them would now be true were it not for the efforts of a little-known and less appreciated foreign intelligence organization, Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence Directorate, "ISI."

We can't fight the war on terrorism by ourselves. Countering terrorism requires forces in practically every nation in the world. These forces must have intimate knowledge of local society and the kind of deep penetration of population that only local police and intelligence organizations can develop. So, it is no surprise that all the successes in the first year of our worldwide struggle against terrorism have involved the effective and often courageous operations of the intelligence and security services of other nations.

It is also no surprise that our cooperation with these services has aroused controversy.

We Americans have a deep suspicion of "secret services" anywhere. International cooperation, inevitably, involves engagement with states that are the rivals or enemies of other nations that are also friendly to us. Greek-Americans or Armenian-Americans are disturbed when we work closely with Turkey. Supporters of Israel are uneasy about close ties between U.S. intelligence and the intelligence services of any Arab states. American friends of India are made uncomfortable by our cooperation with Pakistan.

There is no relationship in the war on terror that is more representative of these uncomfortable realities than that between the ISI and U.S. intelligence and military services. ISI is an intelligence service that is not subject to the kind of open oversight that the we have come to expect over the CIA in the United States. ISI has supported violence against India, as have the Indian intelligence services supported violence in Pakistan.

Pakistan and India have been at war (sometimes declared, sometimes undeclared, but always war) since the two nations were formed more than 50 years ago. Some directors of ISI have had distinctly negative attitudes about the U.S. It is certainly the case that ISI has never succeeded in winning friends in the international journalist community. Yet, it is hard to identify an organization anywhere in the world that has more positively contributed to U.S. aims in both the Cold War against Soviet communism and, now, the war on terrorism.

ISI did the heavy lifting in our program to support the Afghans in their long war to expel the Red Army from their country. That greatly accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union and of its evil empire.

ISI played crucial roles in the apprehension of Mir Amal Kasi and Ramzi Yusuf. ISI provided critical support in the effort against Osama bin Laden and, after September 11, in the destruction of the Taliban regime. ISI is now vitally important to the ongoing fight against al Qaeda and Pakistani extremists who support or shelter them.

Nevertheless, ISI is widely described as having favored extremists among the Afghan fighters during the war against the Soviets, as being "rogue state within a state" that supports extreme elements in Pakistan, as having been the "creator of the Taliban."

None of these negative charges is, in fact, true. ISI, working with and closely monitored by the U.S. during the war against the Soviets, distributed arms and other support to Afghan groups on a roughly per capita basis. Afghan groups received support in proportion to their size, not their ideology. ISI, rather than being a "state within a state", is and always was led by officers who came from and returned to the regular Pakistani military, whose orders ISI always followed. The Taliban, to the extent that they were set up by any foreign element, were not the creatures of ISI, but rather of Harvard alumna Benazir Bhutto, her civilian police chief and financial backers in the Pakistani trucking industry, who used the Taliban to secure shipping across Afghanistan.

One reason for ISI's negative image is, perhaps, their own reluctance to engage the world press and present their "side of the story." As a result, journalists and even U.S. and other diplomats get their "information" on ISI from sources who are frequently hostile to ISI and always lack direct knowledge about the organization and its activities.

Whatever the cause, it is important for continued success in the war on terrorism and for the development of democracy in Pakistan that a more accurate picture of ISI emerge.

ISI is one of the most competent and least corrupt institutions in South Asia. We have to work effectively with it. That will be difficult if ISI's current image isn't corrected and improved.


Frank Anderson is the former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Near East Division.


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