September 11, 2009: The hunt for Osama bin Laden has been stymied for the last eight years because the Pakistanis would not let CIA agents or U.S. Army Special Forces freely search for him. Some agents and Special Forces operators got loose in the tribal areas of Pakistan, along the Afghan border. But the Pakistanis hit the roof when they found out (about some of these excursions), and forbade any more. The U.S. backed down on this.
But recently, the Pakistanis are becoming more cooperative, mainly because they have no choice. This all began three years ago, when the Taliban communications director, Abdul Haq, was captured in Afghanistan. This led to some embarrassing revelations. Haq, who has held his job for about 14 months when he was caught, admitted that the recent increase in Taliban activity was facilitated by Pakistani intelligence (the CIA-like ISI).
Pakistan has long denied this, but then they have to do that. ISI is an organization that has long been tainted by the disease (Islamic radicalism) that it is assigned to control. Very curious situation, but the same could be said of Pakistani politics in general. The Haq revelations, which included lots of details, forced Pakistan to get more involved with pressuring ISI to cut support to the Taliban. Haq also became yet another source of reports that Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, is in the border city of Quetta, under ISI protection.
Last year, the newly elected civilian government in Pakistan began trying to dismantle the pro-Islamic radical elements in the ISI. There have been many documented (by the U.S.) instances where ISI has supported Islamic terrorists, and this time Pakistan pledged that it would root out "Taliban spies" in the ISI.
The problem is that these Islamic radicals have been operating openly in the ISI for three decades, and were put there by the government in the late 1970s, when it was decided that Islamic conservatism was the solution for Pakistan's problems (corruption and religious/ethnic conflicts.) These guys are not just "Taliban spies," but Pakistani intelligence professionals that believe in Islamic radicalism.
The ISI itself was created in 1948 as a reaction to the inability of the IB (Intelligence Bureau, which collected intelligence on foreign countries in general) and MI (Military Intelligence, which collected intel on military matters) to work together and provide useful information. The ISI was supposed to take intel from IB and MI, analyze it and present it to senior government officials. But in the 1950s, the government began to use the ISI to collect intel on Pakistanis, especially those suspected of opposing the current government. This backfired eventually, and in the 1970s, the ISI was much reduced by a civilian government. But when another coup took place in 1977, and the new military government decided that religion was the cure for what ailed the country.
Typically, the Pakistani generals seized control of the government every decade or so, when the corruption and incompetence of elected officials becomes too much for the military men to tolerate. The generals never did much better, and eventually there were elections, and the cycle continued. The latest iteration began in 1999, when the army took over, and was only voted out of power last year. Civilian governments tend to be hostile to the ISI, and apparently they are going to make a real effort to clear out many of the Islamic radicals in the ISI this time around. Then again, recent attempts by the government to take control of the ISI backfired when the generals said they would not allow it. Nothing is simple in Pakistan.
The ISI grew particularly strong during the 1980s, when billions of dollars, most of it in the form of military and economic aid, arrived from the oil-rich Arab governments of the Persian Gulf. All this was to support the Afghans who were resisting a Russian invasion (which was in support of Afghan communists who had taken control of the government, and triggered a revolt of the tribes). The Afghan communists were atheists, and this greatly offended Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries, who feared that Russia would encourage Moslem communists to rebel elsewhere. So the resistance to the Russians in Afghanistan was declared a holy war which, after a fashion, it was. After about nine years of fighting the tribes, the Russians got tired of their slow progress (and more pressing problems back home, like the collapse of their economy from decades of communist mismanagement) and left.
The Russians were gone by 1989 (and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later), but the Afghans promptly fell upon each other and the civil war seemed never-ending. This upset Pakistan, which wanted to send millions of Afghan refugees back home. Few of the refugees were interested, as long as Afghans were still fighting each other. So the ISI created its own faction, the Taliban, by recruiting teachers and students from a network of religious schools that had been established (with the help of Saudi Arabian religious charities) in the 1980s. The most eager recruits were young Afghans from the refugee camps. The Taliban were fanatical, and most Afghans were willing to support them because they brought peace and justice. But the Taliban never conquered all of Afghanistan, especially in the north, where there were few Pushtun tribes (most Taliban were Pushtuns, from tribes in southern Afghanistan). The Pushtuns were about 40 percent of the population, and had always been the most prominent faction in Afghanistan (the king of Afghanistan was traditionally a Pushtun.)
Although a military junta was again running Pakistan when September 11, 2001 came along, the president of the country, an army general (Pervez Musharraf), sided with the United States, and turned against the Taliban. But many in the ISI continued to support the Taliban, and the army was too dependent on the ISI (for domestic intelligence, and to control Islamic militants that were attacking India, especially in Kashmir) to crack down on the intelligence agency.
Al Qaeda took this betrayal badly, and declared war on the Pakistani government. The ISI was used to seek out and kill or capture most of the hostile al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. But the ISI insured that Islamic terrorists who remained neutral were generally left alone. The ISI thwarted government efforts to have the army clear the al Qaeda out of the border areas (populated largely by Pushtun tribes, there being more Pushtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan).
But now, in one sense, it's September 11, 2001 all over again. The U.S. told Pakistan, with increasing urgency, that it was fed up with getting screwed around by the ISI, and if Pakistan doesn't clean out the ISI, and shut down Islamic terrorists along the Afghan border, NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops will cross the border and do it.
Pakistan wants continued U.S. military aid to bolster its defenses against India. But if it suddenly has a hostile U.S. in Afghanistan, and less (or no) military aid, it's general military situation will be, well, not good. While Afghanistan, and the foreign troops there, are dependent on Pakistani ports and trucking companies for supplies, Pakistan is also dependent on the U.S. Navy for access to the sea. Pakistan does not want to go to war with the United States in order to defend Islamic terrorists it openly says it is at war with.
Pakistan is being forced to destroy the Islamic radical movement it has nurtured over the last three decades, although it's still questionable if there's enough political will in Pakistan to actually do the deed. The international condemnation of Pakistan based Islamic terrorists responsible for the recent Mumbai massacre has put Pakistan in a difficult position. If the Islamic radical groups in the country are not really shut down, Pakistan risks being branded a terrorist state.
At this point, the Pakistani government has cleared most, but not all, of the pro-Islamic radical operatives out of the ISI. But there are still plenty of Pakistanis in the government who see India, and the West in general (especially America and NATO) as the main enemy. So the CIA is still not allowed to roam freely in the tribal areas. This time it's Pakistani nationalists who are saying no, rather than pro-terrorist intelligence officials from ISI. Osama bin Laden is still a hero to many Pakistanis, because Osama "stuck it to the man." CanÂ’t forget that aspect of all this. The "East" has been getting stomped by the "West" for several centuries now. People in the West think nothing of it, but those in the East are obsessed by this lengthy humiliation. Any payback is appreciated, and September 11, 2001 has become something of a guilty pleasure throughout the Moslem world.