The report in the New York Times that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was aware of al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad is illuminating to the extent that it has confirmed what is commonly suspected.
The report is based on the book by a British journalist who was based in Afghanistan and has cited a Pakistani official as her source. To say that Osama stayed in Abbottabad and yet the Pakistan establishment did not know anything about it defies credulity. However, what the book, at least the part excerpted in the New York Times, does not say is of far greater import: Why did the ISI do something that would anger and even alienate its ally of 60 years?
Was Pakistan not the US’s natural ally in the latter’s fight against terror after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre? Until that question is answered, anti-terror operations will not find a direction and would mean very little, particularly to India.
Ever since the US’s anti-terror operations started from 1998, when its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya had been bombed, Pakistan became more strident in its anti-Indian stance. What went wrong after that? After Nawaz Sharif as prime minister was overthrown in a military coup in 1999, the field was left open to the army to pursue its own policy course because the countervailing check of a civilian authority that could have its own dealings with the US was smothered.
Now if it transpires that only the ISI and not the army chief knew that Osama was hiding in Abbottabad, it leads to the conclusion that the ISI is functioning as an autonomous unit within another autonomous unit, the army. This bodes ill for India, apart from the US. An organisation like the ISI is more powerful in peacetime than during war. People such as Hafeez Saeed, an uncompromising Indian-hater, are in league with the ISI, which is evidently espousing the cause of religious fundamentalism.
The task for the US is now to lick the ISI into shape in going after the Taliban in Pakistan before it leaves Afghanistan. For this it should link economic aid as an instrument in controlling terror. It should not be difficult for the US to crush non-State terror syndicates. For this, however, it has to abandon the old practice of looking for short-term gains at the cost of long-term ones.