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OPINION | Time to hold ISI accountable

The ISI’s role in spawning terrorism has been a matter of public record for long, affirmed and acknowledged even by Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf among them. India, the United States and other countries have known it for longer.

editorials Updated: Mar 17, 2019 10:16 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack. The JeM is suspected to be backed by the ISI.(PTI/File Photo)

Former dictator Pervez Musharraf said last week terrorist outfits were used by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in his time to carry out “bomb blasts” in India; and Jaish-e-Mohammad was among then. He knew, he added in a chilling admission, but did not stop them.

JeM was working for Pakistani intelligence then, essentially Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and does now, along with a host of other terrorist outfits such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, which have carried out attacks in India, and Haqqani Network, which has targeted Afghanistan and US-led international forces there. It may even have had a role in Pulwama, either directly by planning or facilitating it, or indirectly, by being generally supportive of the JeM and others.

The ISI is the parent terrorist organisation, a mother lode that feeds them, keeps them in business and uses them to disrupt peace initiatives and disrupt regional stability, and time may have come to hold it accountable, designate it as a global terrorist organization as its proxies; or, at the east, name, shame and sanction officials linked to these groups or individuals, as has been suggested.

The ISI’s role in spawning terrorism has been a matter of public record for long, affirmed and acknowledged even by Pakistan, Musharraf among them. India, the United States and other countries have known it for longer.

At a US congressional hearing in 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said, without a hint of irony or sarcasm, “The Haqqani Network (a Pakistan-based wing of the Afghan Taliban proscribed by both the US and the UN) acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.” The two outfits had together planned, coordinated out carried out, he told the lawmakers, a deadly attack on the American embassy in Kabul just a week before, killing 16 Afghan police officers and civilians. The admiral went on to cite their other hits.

India has a longer list of such attacks involving the ISI and any of its many proxies, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and their proxies: including the Parliament House attack in 2001 to the Mumbai attacks in 2008 to the Pathankot air-base attack in 2016. ISI’s fingerprints were all over them.

David Headley, the Pakistani-American who has confessed to help plot the Mumbai massacre has told American and Indian prosecutors of two ISI officers — “Major Ali” and “Major Iqbal” — who helped plan the attacks.

And when Omar Sheikh, the Pakistani-British terrorist, who India released from custody in 1999 in exchange for passengers of IC 814 along with JeM founder Masood Azhar, was being hunted for kidnapping American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, he gave himself up to his former handler from the ISI, by then a senior government official.

There is a case for a terrorism designation for ISI, or its personnel. But who is going to litigate it?

India t has considered and dismissed proposals to designate Pakistan a state-sponsor of terrorism because it does not want to shut down avenues for talks to normalize relations, according to multiple national security officials. But what about the ISI? A retaliatory pronouncement from Pakistan will follow for sure. But is that really such a s bad thing?

The United States toyed with the idea of designating Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism in the 1990s, but did not go through with it, though a number of lawmakers and experts continue to press for it There have been suggestions for listing the ISI, going back several decades now. It may be time now for the United States to take another look at those proposals.

The United States does target departments of foreign governments. It sanctioned Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization in 2017, for less, it can be argued.

Just a few weeks before Lisa Cutis joined President Donald Trump’s national security team in 2017, she wrote a paper with Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, urging the new administration to adopt a new, and tougher, approach to dealing with Pakistan on it continued support of terrorism.

The Trump administration’s objective must be, the authors argued, to make it “more and more costly for Pakistani leaders to employ a strategy of supporting terrorist proxies”. Among the their many suggestions, some which have indeed been implemented such cutting security-related aid to Pakistan, was the option of declaring Pakistan a state-sponsor or terrorism, though they had then cautioned it would be “unwise” do so in the first of the administration; it’s the third year now.

They had also recommended holding Pakistan military and ISI officials accountable. “The U.S. should consider compiling a list of Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials, current and former, who are known to have facilitated acts of terrorism — including supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network) — and barring them from travel to the US.” Blacklisting by America for links to terrorism, could impact their travels to other countries as well. And that can be good start, with sanctions on individuals and entities to follow.

First Published: Mar 17, 2019 10:16 IST