Those manning the ISI and those running the government are essentially from the same pod. And yet, while the former is considered among the best in the world, the latter is arguably the worst. All that changed the other day when a “senior intelligence official” in a rare bout of candour confessed that our spooks were clueless about Raymand Davis and CIA-contracted spies like him in Pakistan.
Being oblivious to scores of spies working for the CIA is inexcusable. Expecting the CIA to keep us informed of the identity and the nature of the work of its sleuths in Pakistan is delusional. It’s like joining the navy to see the world and then complaining that all one really gets to see is the sea. The CIA’s ability to fool friends and foes alike, including its own leaders, as the farce over the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq showed, is infinite. Good spies would have heeded Leon Trotsky’s advice: “An ally has to be watched just like an enemy.”
If we can be caught napping on CIA operatives, when it is clear how fussed the US is about our nukes, a bigger question arises: how much better are we when it comes to what India is up to, given that RAW is of even greater concern than the CIA?
Yet another question arises: how good are we really when it comes to what goes on along our western border, among our extremists and the Afghans?
These questions inexorably arise considering our ignorance of the presence of CIA operatives when our relationship with them, notwithstanding the use of the term “allies,” has been expedient and unstable from the start.
It is, of course, good to know that we are mounting our own operations to gather intelligence on the CIA’s counterterrorism operations. These should begin by keeping a close tab on the 851 “diplomats” that the US has stationed in Pakistan, and for whom it will no doubt claim diplomatic immunity whenever their dangerous antics stand exposed.
Notwithstanding the welcome candour of the “senior intelligence official” and the general impression of competence that the people have about the ISI, it may well be that this is not the case and that reform and overhaul is needed. For example, whether it has become too big and bloated to be professionally on top of its job, and whether, because of its role in politics, it can be as sharp and focused as it should be on its intelligence work. If that is the case, we had better start now, and with a sense of urgency. We live in a dangerous neighbourhood and the last thing that we want in such a situation is an intelligence agency that does not meet the highest professional standards of performance.
On occasions what the “senior intelligence official” had to say the other day sounded naive like, for example, when he seemed to be objecting to the fact that the CIA was using pressure tactics to free Davis. What did he expect? For the CIA to leave Davis to the tender mercies of the Punjab police? So great has been the CIA’s eagerness to get Davis out and prevent his interrogation that even the hapless Obama was prevailed upon to lie about Davis being a diplomat. One wonders when Obama will finally get a grip on his military and the CIA. Thus far, he has been dragooned into endorsing Petraeus’s failing “surge” strategy in Afghanistan, the intensification of the massively counterproductive drone operations in Pakistan, at least in the long run, and now the CIA’s antics to get Davis released. Even the Cold War warrior-brothers Allen and John Dulles did not seem to have as much influence on Eisenhower as today’s generals and sleuths have over Obama. Whatever the “change” that Obama campaigned for, it has been a change for the worse for our region.
But there is a silver lining to the controversy that has erupted. Our reaction to the CIA’s duplicity will be a measured one. Ties will not be severed and collaboration against the greater enemy will continue. The point is to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” from the experience. We must learn from the public censure that has ensued, and rather than try and avoid, much less suppress it, devise better and more successful methods. This seems to be the spirit in which the “senior intelligence official” spoke, and it was a brave and novel manner of engaging with the public. It’s also a welcome development because the opacity that had hitherto shrouded their views is lifting. This accords with the open society that Pakistan is becoming, to our lasting credit, because that is what we want and what democracy is all about.
Just when we were beginning to lose hope in the ability of civilians to manage their own affairs the confession by our brother in uniform showed that they are no better. Having sat in front of a retired general entrusted with running a public-sector cooperation (into the ground, as it happened) and be told—mind you, with a straight face—that he and his ilk are “a special breed,” it’s a relief to know that being “conned” or misled is not the monopoly of civilians. That said, there is every possibility that they will learn from their mistakes, which is more than can be said about our politicians.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: [email protected]