ISI-Islam connection is as false as ISI-Drug connection

The latest CIA allegation levelled against the Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, is that it is spreading Islamization in South Asia in collusion with the Bangladesh intelligence agencies to set a trap of Islamic militants for India.

These allegations appeared in America’s premium news intelligence service STRATFOR, which is also known as the CIA’s cousin. Those who work for STRATFOR are also the leading figures in running discussion groups such as the Political Islam Discussion Group (PIDL) for infecting the debate about Muslims and Islam.

Such reports are part of the CIA’s (read the US government’s) long term scheme to undermine Pakistan, starting with neutralizing its armed forces and its intelligence agencies. To be fair, like the overall Pakistan military force, the much dreaded ISI has been used like a whore by the CIA in every possible way. At home, both the civilian and military dictators use the ISI as a draconian tool. But this is all that the ISI is: just a tool, without any strategic mission, vision or direction of its own.

I, personally, remember being hounded by ISI officers who behaved like mad dogs when I wrote an article “Egyptianizing Pakistan” (June 1, 1999), criticising Nawaz Sharif’s using Hosnie Mubarak’s approach to crushing the opposition and prolonging his rule.

The ISI’s madness intensified when the then Egyptian ambassador wrote an article in response and called the criticism of Nawaz Sharif’s government a “malicious agenda” on my part. My subsequent article “Understanding Egyptianization,” (June 15, 1999) was a good enough provocation for the ISI to threaten me with death. One of their officers asked me: “What do you think, how would you have been treated if you were in Egypt?” Receiving no response from me, the officer added, “your family would have held your chaleeswan (40th day after death) by now.”

Interestingly, the same officers from the ISI and ISPR came to ask for my resume when they were considering suitable people for a ministerial portfolio. I was deemed worthy because I had written some articles in favour of the military take-over after the October 12, 1999 coup. The military government was in desperate need of allies at home and abroad.

Two years later, the same ISI turned my life into a living hell when I exposed just the tip of a corruption iceberg, in NGOs, to which a sitting military governor was closely linked.

This personal experience clearly shows that the ISI serves whoever is in power in Pakistan. Since no one could rule Pakistan without assuring Washington that he or she is a better stooge, the broader strategic direction for the ISI remains the directive given it from Washington. The question is: Why then does the CIA come up with these allegations against the ISI?

The answer is simple: to extract more obedience from Islamabad in the near future and to facilitate the ditching of the ISI in the longer term. History shows that the U.S. government has previously attempted to use ISI crimes to press Pakistani governments into submission. The Washington Post published a report in its September 12, 1994 edition in an attempt to implicate the Pakistan army in drug trafficking. The News published the same report in October 1994. In 2003, the ISI faced severe criticism at a U.S. Senate briefing on the drug trade, a crime in which the CIA has been involved since 1960. Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall tell us in Cocaine Politics Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America, (University of California Press, 1991 that the CIA works with narcotics traffickers and then fights to suppress the truth. They conclude, the U.S. government “is one of the world’s largest drug pushers.”

Time and again, the U.S. lawmakers threatened the ISI and Pakistan with allegations of drug trafficking, yet ignored the fact that even if some military or ISI officials were involved in drug trafficking on a personal level, the amount they privately smuggled into the United States was no more than a fraction of the amount trafficked by the U.S. agencies. According to Paul Johnson: “By the end of the 1980s it was calculated that the illegal use of drugs in the United States netted its controllers over $110 billion a year.” (Paul Johnson, Modern Times, New York: Harper Perenial, 1991 rev. ed., p.782.)

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune (August 13, 1996), Celerino Castelo–a former DEA agent–stated that together with three other ex-DEA agents, they were willing to testify in Congress regarding their direct knowledge of CIA involvement in international drug trafficking. Castillo estimates that approximately 75 percent of narcotics entered the United States with the acquiescence or direct participation of CIA and foreign intelligence agents.

In this backdrop, the March 2003 hearing of the U.S. Senate[1] was just another threat in the vast trap being laid for the Pakistani army for the next several years. Furthermore, ISI assets, Saeed Sheikh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were used in operation 9/11. The extent to which the ISI was dragged into the trap of 9/11 is not fully known. That, however, remains a time bomb for Pakistan. It didn’t get diffused with the “termination” of former ISI chief General Mahmood Ahmad. It can explode at any time the US decides to disarm and neutralise Pakistan like Iraq.

The entrapment process adopted by the U.S. agencies is very simple. They plan and commit a crime of serious magnitude. They achieve their strategic objective behind the crime. At the same time, they involve the victim in just a fraction of the overall criminal plan. The unknown/unintended cooperation in the crime is then later used to punish the victim. This is exactly how the BCCI was trapped. Irrefutable evidence demonstrates that the CIA funded the operation against the BCCI with drug money, earned through the organized selling of drugs to its own employees. According to the court transcripts of the BCCI case: “By late 1987, the agents had passed approximately $2.2 million derived from Don Chepe’s proceeds through the IDC account, and had split the 7-8 percent commission profit with Mora and Don Chepe’s representative Javier Ospina, without telling any BCCI officers about drugs.”[2] Yet, it was the BCCI that paid the price.

The recent allegations of the ISI’s spreading Islamization in South Asia is part of the overall pressure exerted to extract more obedience from Islamabad for strategic reasons. Unlike Mossad and the CIA with their long term plans, the ISI is nothing more than what its current masters want it to be. The allegations of its spreading Islamization are just nonsensical.

How is it possible for the commander in chief of the armed forces, hell bent on eradicating all traces of Islam from the constitution, the school curriculum and at home, to allow one of his strategic arm’s, the ISI –” presently holding hundreds of Islamic activists in illegal detention –” to evangelize Islam!

No doubt Musharraf is bluffing his paranoid masters with the mantra of enlightened moderation to prolong his rule. To believe, however, that his pet agency is working with a strategic vision for the spread of Islam would be naïve beyond the farther reaches of imagination.


[1]. Dawn report, “ISI criticized at U.S. Senate hearing,” March 22, 2003.

[2]. U.S. District Court transcripts for the BCCI related case: U.S. Vs Amjad Awan et al 88-330-Cr-T-13(B) R48-791-49, 50 R67-1136-160, 161 and 162 R83-881-26,27, and 28 GE 3193.