Fred Burton: Hi. I’m Fred Burton here today with my colleague Kamran Bokhari. We thought we would chat about the Pakistani ISI’s fighting against jihadists. Kamran, what’s your take on the current state of play with the ISI and the war on the jihadists?
Kamran Bokhari: It’s interesting, Fred. We’ve reached a situation where the ISI and the military establishment as a whole in Pakistan is now engaged in a full-fledged war against the very type of characters that they once cultivated.
Fred: What do you mean by “cultivated”?
Kamran: It’s no secret that the Pakistani state during the 1980s — at that time, the CIA was involved in it as well with the mujahedeen in the Soviet war in Afghanistan — that they were supporting these non-state actors for purposes of foreign policy projection. Interests aligned the Saudis, the Americans and the Pakistanis at that point in time against the Soviets. The Soviets left, and so did the Americans. The Pakistanis then decided to continue to deal with these characters. In fact, they cultivated them for purposes of fighting against India as well. Then 9/11 happened, and now 13 years after 9/11, the situation is such that Pakistan is still fighting that same war, only the battles are different. The type of people who were once allies are now the enemies.
Fred: Do you sense the Pakistanis are making some headway against the jihadists?
Kamran: I think they are. If you look at the way the six-month-old north Waziristan operation codenamed Operation Zarb-e-Azb, you see there has only been one major attack in retaliation, or a successful one. It’s not that the Pakistani Taliban rebels have not staged attacks, they’ve attempted to. They tried to attack a naval vessel off the port of Karachi in the dockyards of the Navy. That failed. They tried to attack two separate airbases simultaneously in Balochistan. That failed. We only had one successful attack near the Indian border on the border crossing a few weeks ago where several people got killed. So there’s one attack in six months of an operation. I would say the Taliban network has been destructed sufficiently and is just not able to perform at this time.
Fred: Do you think the relations have been repaired since the Osama bin Laden raid between the CIA and the Pakistani ISI?
Kamran: “Repaired” is a word that needs qualification. I think the relations aren’t hemorrhaging. The hemorrhaging has stopped, but the repair is a work in progress. I think there has been a significant amount of improvement in relations, but I think there’s still a long way to go. One of the other factors that’s basically shaping this repair or disrepair of relationships is that the United States is moving out of Afghanistan. We’re pulling out the troops. We’re going to leave a residual force of about 10,000 people, so it’s not really that important for Washington. That has an impact on just how much there is a need for the ISI the CIA and other U.S. and Pakistani agencies to coordinate. The coordination will remain, but it’s not going to be at that level we saw in years past.
Fred: Do you think the notion of deep state comes into play here when you’re talking about the ISI?
Kamran: Absolutely. I think like any intelligence agency or security establishment of any country, there are those who don’t like change. They are comfortable with an old order, and this is not a single group or a government department. These are like-minded people who are tied to the interests of the old order. They come together and they try to resist change. I think that now we see the Pakistanis making far more headway than in recent years, but nonetheless, there is a significant amount of resistance from within the Pakistani security establishment, particularly the networks around the ISI that still think the Pakistani state should not completely abandon this non-state actor proxy project because it could come in handy in the future against India. I think the principle stakeholders believe that enough is enough and we need to somehow draw the line, and that these are no longer assets, these are liabilities that are threatening the security of the state.
Fred: Fascinating, Kamran. You and I could chat about the ISI all day. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today. For those of you interested in more on the topic, please visit out website. Thank you.
“Conversation: Analyzing Pakistan’s Fight Against Jihadists” is republished with permission of Stratfor.