According to counter-terrorism data for 2009 disseminated by Amir Mir, the Pakistani journalist, through his column in the News of March 13, 2010, 28 personnel of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were killed by terrorists belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its Punjabi associates through suicide bombers during 2009. A study of the frequent targeted attacks on the ISI would indicate that all these attacks had taken place in the non-tribal areas--mainly in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar.
The targeted attacks on Pakistani Army officers by suicide bombers, which caused 102 fatalities during 2009, could be attributed to the Taliban anger over the commando raid in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007, in which a large number of Pashtun students, many of them girls, were killed, the subsequent military operations against the TTP and the intensification of the Drone ( pilotless plane) strikes by the US. Even though the Pakistani authorities have been criticising these strikes in public and projecting themselves as helpless in making the US stop them, the TTP and others in Pakistan believe that these strikes have the secret support of the Pakistan Army.
Apart from playing the usual role in the collection of intelligence before and during the Lal Masjid raid, the ISI did not play any noticeable role in the commando raid. There are no indicators of Talibani anger against the ISI for its role in the raid. Available intelligence indicates that the Talibani anger against the ISI is mainly because of what the TTP perceives as the ISI's co-operation with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in its counter-terrorism operations.
This co-operation is in the following forms:
- Logistic support for the Drone strikes, which are largely operated by the CIA.
- Collection of human intelligence for targeting. There has been a steady improvement in the quality and accuracy of the human intelligence available to the CIA and the US military forces deployed in Afghan territory. This improvement could not have been possible through the CIA's efforts alone. The TTP and its Punjabi associates suspect an increasing presence of the CIA in Pakistani territory for joint intelligence collection operations with the ISI.
The intensified US intelligence activity relating to Pakistan has resulted in an an increasing flow of intelligence not only about the TTP, but also about the Punjabi Taliban organisations, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). A perusal of the documents filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in a Chicago court against David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the LET gives an idea of the wealth of intelligence which the FBI has been able to collect regarding their links in Pakistan, including with at least one Army officer.
The increasing concerns in the US over the Al Qaeda-like growth of the LET and the threat posed by it not only to India, but also to the security of US nationals and to US interests are the result of the flow of intelligence to the US about the LET from its own sources. While India has reasons to be gratified by the new focus on the LET as equally dangerous as Al Qaeda, it has reasons to be dissatisfied over the continuing reluctance in US policy-making circles to act firmly against the ISI for its use of the LET against India.
If the LET has become as dangerous as Al Qaeda as was stated by some US experts before a Congressional hearing last week, it follows that the ISI, the LET's sponsor, has become as dangerous as Al Qaeda. The ISI-LET nexus has become an important factor in the persisting global jihadi threat. What should be of concern is that the global jihadi threat remains as high as before 9/11 with the LET making up for any loss in capabilities suffered by Al Qaeda.
This threat will remain high unless the ISI is made to act against the LET. This conclusion has not come out clearly in the Congressional hearing. While the US experts who testified in the Congressional hearing have not hesitated to call a spade a spade while drawing attention to the links between the ISI and the LET, they have not been forthright in calling for action against the ISI.
While the FBI has done a thorough job of the investigation into the activities of the Chicago cell of the LET from its side, it has not exercised sufficient pressure on the Pakistani agencies for thoroughly investigating the activities of the Pakistan-based handling officers of Headley and Rana. The FBI has done a lot to satisfy India that it has investigated the activities of the Chicago cell and its role in the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist strike thoroughly and shared the resulting information with the Indian agencies. At the same time, it has not done all that it should have in order to bring to book the Pakistan-based handling officers. Not even a case has been registered in Pakistan against them.
The co-operation of the ISI with the CIA in its operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban and the fact that the ISI has paid a heavy price for this co-operation have stood in the way of the US exercising pressure on Pakistan to act against the LET as firmly as it has against the TTP. The soft approach of the US towards the ISI with regard to its use of the LET against India continues. Unless India remonstrates strongly against this soft attitude, the Pakistani collusion with the LET will continue.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.