ISI as a guarantor of peace and stability

The Americans of late have been making noises and fuss about the way in which the affairs of Pakistan's FATA territory have been conducted. Since FATA is strategically sandwiched between the settled areas of the NWFP and the border areas of Afghanistan and is an integral part of Pakistan there are bound to be operational overlaps or even mishaps between the on-going American anti-terrorist operations in a much wider spread and those that are conducted just within the domain of FATA by Pakistani units. Basically the current situation has arisen largely due to local lower-level operational misunderstandings which should really not be allowed to ruffle the broader parameters of the existing coordinating arrangements under which both sides are indeed compelled to work in close physical proximity with each other. The bottom line of it all is therefore to exercise much more care and sensibility through its application to the finer points involved in keeping the peace of FATA and the areas ancillary and around it. By applying the rules of reciprocity and sensibly ensuring a practical coexistence between the two forces, the tensions can certainly be reduced and even be defused. After all the respective forces as of now are facing virtually the same adversaries in combat. This should not necessarily pose intractable issues that cannot be surmounted for coordinating things for purposes of pursuing hot-pursuit objectives as a legitimate tactic so as to be able to dominate events that are taking place in a difficult terrain in which the operations have of necessity to be conducted. When the former Soviet Union's tanks and infantry rolled into Afghanistan in the 1980s - it needs some mentioning here that it was the ISI units that rang the first alarm bells for the entire world. Only then did the world take notice of the fact that a wanton aggression was underway at the instance of the then Soviet Union which had spilled over its boundaries with the clear intent of not only over-running Afghanistan but of swallowing it up and trying to digest an entire country. What happened after that event is of course now history but it took years altogether of sustained toil, resources and blood and tears to restore Afghanistan's territorial integrity. And the net result of that situation was that most of the world had to get together and pool resources so as to once again restore Afghanistan to the status quo ante that existed prior to the Soviet invasion of the 1980s. If the ISI may have at times 'over-reacted' in the process it was indeed for very good tactical and combat reasons. The ISI indeed have had one of the longest accumulated professional war experiences of the peripheral Afghanistan conditions and thus possesses the sort of hardened morale that comes from having had regular and frequent exposures to battle and semi-battle conditions. In that sense the ISI is not merely just another intelligence gathering agency that is restricted to just about that much and no more. The ISI has historically speaking been extraordinarily nurtured and nursed into the sort of super-hard fighting units that will not be found in any way inadequate or wanting in a demanding combat situation. In any combat situation the ISI units are strong enough to deal powerfully with any bunch of terrorists or militants and give them a taste of their own medicine anywhere in the wilds of the operational areas in and around Afghanistan or even the north-western tracts of Pakistan and beyond. But ever since the Soviet aggression was rolled back and Afghanistan re-emerged as an independent entity, the ISI as well as Pakistan instead of being given any credit from the Afghan episode of the 1980s has received only flak and criticism despite their successful efforts that got Afghanistan rid of the Soviet presence that had taken control of that country in the 1980s. Paradoxically, most of the criticism of the ISI and Pakistan has emanated from two traditional sources - the first being from the so-called Northern Alliance of Afghanistan and the second one being from the South Block of the Government of India Secretariat in New Delhi. Neither of them is known for having any thing good to say about Pakistan or the ISI. The activist role that the ISI is compelled to adopt with deployments of its units in the north-western regions is not a new phenomenon by any chance. The ISI as an organisation that has fulfilled a very natural need of the tribal territories of Pakistan's north-western regions and is administered through a very elaborate paramilitary system of political agencies that historically have had the duty to liaise and keep a strong presence and vigil in that area. They thus specialise in providing early warnings and reports as to what events are likely to take place and how best they need to be tackled. That is precisely why only recently a former DG ISI came out with a very strong and succinct policy exposition as to why the ISI deployments in the north-western territories are so vital to the defence of Pakistan. The same former DG ISI went on to elaborate that the ISI takes very good care of Pakistan's first line of defence which happens to be the FATA area. There is a commonplace saying that anyone who gets once bitten is also consequently twice shy. That is indeed the classical saying that forces Pakistan to be on a constant high alert in the north-western strategic belt that goes by the name of FATA. And the ISI is indeed a worthy guarantor of peace and stability in our north-west. The writer is former Principle Secretary to the Prime Minister.

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