Waris Husain Editorial: The ISI (Pakistan’s Spy Agency) Working for Retirement


Many experts claim that the relationship between theU.S.andPakistan’s spy agency is reaching a boiling point. The top brass inPakistan’s military is attacking the CIA presence in the nation, using the leverage it gained through releasing a CIA agent, Raymond Davis, and allowing theU.S.to continue its drone war. The problem with defining this moment as a “game-changer” is that it neglects to take into account the long-running love/hate relationship between the CIA and ISI. Rather than a winner-take-all war between two of the most pervasive spy organizations in the world, this situation is more akin to an employer frustrated with the unsatisfactory performance of his star contractor. While the employer (theU.S.government) continues to try and push their contractor to pursue the goals it has laid out, the contractor (Pakistan’s ISI) is anxiously awaiting his approaching retirement date. 

The correlation between the ISI and a disgruntled but capable contractor dawned on me as I watched my father during the last years at his city government position. Perhaps the most interesting part of my father’s employment was his complete over-qualification for the job he was assigned to, which could have been performed by an individual with half the education he received. This training allowed him to handle to handle complex work in a quick fashion and earned my father the reputation as the “go-to-guy” in the office, and his employer depended on his knowledge.

The same reliance and high capability exists in the relationship between the ISI and theU.S.Because the ISI has spent so much time and money on developing links with most major militant groups in its midst, they provide a powerful ally for the U.S. in its fight against these same groups. Outside of the CIA itself, theU.S.government depends almost completely on the ISI’s intelligence and connections for its battle inAfghanistan’s border region, and both parties know it.

The position my father filled as a city health statistician was also not suited to his interests, and while he held onto his job for twenty years, he never felt passionately about his employment. Rather his job was a means to an end to provide him with a steady source of income so that he could fund his own interests, be it journalism or poetry.

In many ways, the ISI fills a similar role of disinterested ally with theU.S., even though much of its “income” comes fromWashington.  The ISI has redirected its income in a nefarious manner by using the funding it receives from theU.S.government, to serve its ulterior interests that directly challengeU.S.security. The ISI has two primary interests to which it misappropriatesU.S.funding:IndiaandAfghanistan. In order to continue destabilizing and putting pressure onIndia, the ISI uses its income to fund and train militant groups to fight inKashmir. On the other hand, the ISI wishes to hedge its bets for a post-KarzaiAfghanistan, and so they appease and offer shelter to groups allied to the Afghan Taliban.

An interesting feature about my father’s career was that as his frustration with his job grew, so did the hostility between him and his employer. By the end of his career at the government office, my father was literally counting down the days until he could retire, because his work environment was so hostile. Each day he would say with more excitement, “I am almost done with this.” Yet being his son, I sensed that he was growing increasingly anxious at the prospect of severing this relationship and being left without a purpose or income. Thankfully, soon after, he began planning all of the professional opportunities he could take advantage of after retirement. And as these plans grew in scope and number, his anxiety also seemed to diminish. Now my father is enjoying his days, filling them with the writing and research, dedicated his true passion, and indeed he seems much happier.

ForPakistan’s ISI, it is clear that they too have become exhausted with their employment under theU.S.as they continually battle against public will to capitulate to demands fromWashington. This has led the ISI to minimally satisfy the demands of theU.S.in the War on Terror because it is merely waiting until its retirement date. The ISI likely perceives its retirement date as set for when theU.S.exitsAfghanistan, which will free up the ISI to act without oversight by the Americans across the border. Yet, the ISI lacks a legitimate post-retirement plan as it seems to be positioning itself to enter a new era of state-sponsored terrorism by creating links with Afghan and anti-India militants.

The back and forth nature of the US- Pakistan relationship has resulted in several outbreaks of hostility between both sides, many of which have been called “disasters” from which there was no return. Yet, the complex relationship has continued because of the one major difference between my father’s situation and the ISI’s. My father’s international interests were completely unrelated to the objectives of his municipal employer, but the interests ofPakistanand theU.S.are far more interwoven. Unless both countries can work together to eradicate the threat of anti-state militant groups, they will both face the same peril. Thus, the ISI should begin planning for retirement in a more logical way- by pursuing some of the objectives of theU.S.and cutting its relationships with the same militant groups that will gladly disintegrate the nation if given the chance.

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