ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) is Pakistan’s real national asset. It is the nation’s first line of defence.  Globally acknowledged as one of the finest intelligence agencies by friends and foes alike. Yet in the past couple of years, it has been demonized at home and abroad. Demonization of ISI is part of the undercover war on Pakistan.

The history of the ISI would merit a great book. Suffice it to say that from its infancy and mushrooming growth, it was indispensable for Pakistan. The aftermath of bloody partition in 1947, India’s occupation of Kashmir, river water problems and a lot else was the inheritance of young Pakistan. Born truncated, moth eaten, denied of its defensible borders with millions of refugees, water problems aggravated by bellicose, larger India was the environment. A constant Indian threat needed to be met. Alliance with America, building the Pakistan Army and creating the ISI were three major steps to restore balance of power.

Every country needs a spy agency, but Pakistan’s environment demanded something much more than simply an intelligence agency. Pakistan needed the ISI.  Once it was created besides classic intelligence agency role, its larger mandate meant to contribute and guard Pakistan’s critical national security.

The political role which periodically was criticized was mostly during the dictator dispensations in Pakistan. The after-math has been that dictators have gone but their infamous legacies persist.  The ISI was not responsible per se for installing dictators in Pakistan. This was more due to political system failure and over-ambitious adventurers seizing powers. The ISI remained devoted and loyal to Pakistan and its people regardless of the nature of the regime in power.

Furthermore, to its credit the ISI was mostly right in its analysis, assessments and advice in the historical context. The inadequacies were far lesser than the successes.

 Two more points merit considerations:

Firstly, ISI was almost always dealing with major or bigger powers and contenders. It was competing in conflict or matching bigger nations and their intelligence agencies with far greater technological, financial resources. Money is the prime factor in the intelligence game. Still the ISI was frequently more than a match, despite its known handicaps.

Secondly, the ISI’s major successes were strategic even geopolitical and influencing the globe. In the larger picture the ISI in the past and today is on the winning side. The animosity of hostile powers to ISI and recent sinister designs thus becomes apparent.

    India

Pakistan’s India problem was quite simple. India was hostile and also big. It was holding Kashmir by force. Kashmir without which Pakistan is incomplete, and without Kashmir river waters unlivable. The ISI monitoring the Indian army mobilization or build-up was professional and balanced. It was neither alarmist nor complacent. In essence, ISI neither provoked war nor let the guard down. In all cases, wars were averted. This contributed to a war avoidance policy which was in the interest of Pakistan and the world.

ISI has played a pivotal role in maintaining balance with India. Simply put, despite Indian preponderance it has not been able to impose its hegemony on Pakistan, the reason the pro-Indian lobby is full of venom about it.

    Afghanistan

ISI was fully involved due to two wars in Afghanistan.

§  Soviets in Afghanistan. The Afghan Jihad was supported by Pakistan. ‘The Strategy of Thousand Cuts’ resulted in Soviet withdrawal.  After the fall of Berlin wall, a piece of the wall was presented to the brilliant DG ISI General Hamid Gul with the inspiration – ‘One who helped deliver the first blow’. Later the Taliban entrenched themselves in Afghanistan.

§  US NATO in Afghanistan. This was a complicated scenario. On the one hand, Pakistan was non-NATO ally, and on the other India and other hostile forces used Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan. The situation has been handled deftly by ISI.

    Nuclear – strategic         security

In the 1980s there was threat of Indo-Israel attack on Kahuta. The threat to Nuclear Pakistan still persists in other forms. ISI played an outstanding role in defending Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

    Regional Peace and         Balance

The ISI is striving for regional peace and balance. It is most ably led by senior officers groomed in the art. The DG ISI General Zahirul Islam is proving highly effective. His reported visit to Moscow as a sequel to COAS visit has opened new geopolitical opportunity for Pakistan. Rekindling of ties with USA also appears probable. America’s recent exemption of ISI leaders to US laws disappointed India and is a clear indicator of improving Pakistan-USA relations.

The ISI is not merely a spy agency but working to provide Pakistan the equalizer while dealing with greater powers. 

Author of the book “Gwadar on the Global Chessboard” Blog: Pakistan and Geopolitics  The author is a retired Brigadier of the Pakistan Army.