Indian Decade

ISI Keeps Sacred Cow Status

Recent Features

Indian Decade

ISI Keeps Sacred Cow Status

Testimony to the Pakistani Parliament by the ISI chief over the Abbotabad raid was combative and seemingly blame shifting.

India’s External Affairs Ministry will do well to handle with care post-Operation Geronimo Pakistan and the embarrassing security and intelligence failures it appears to have revealed. This certainly isn’t the time for the MEA to make a song and dance about the Indian military’s capacity to launch an Abbottabad-style operation to take out those believed to have been involved with the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

As for Pakistan, it is already undergoing an even more intense bout of internal strife than usual following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha and Deputy Chief of Air Staff Operations Air Marshal Muhammad Hassan testified before a closed door joint session of the two houses of the Pakistani Parliament on May 13. During the session, they discussed the intelligence and security failures highlighted by the May 2 US military raid in Abbottabad, codenamed Operation Geronimo, which killed bin Laden.

During the testimony, Pasha apparently offered to resign as ISI Chief—if Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani wanted him to. Gilani, though, appears to have rejected Pasha’s offer, and the joint session passed a resolution recommending the setting up of an independent commission to probe intelligence and security failures.

Some details of this secretive session, also attended by the all-power Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, have been made available. They suggest three things:

1.      An all-out turf war has started among different agencies in Pakistan, with each implying the others should take some responsibility for the failures.

2.      The security aspects of the incident are being given greater weight by the Pakistani government than the intelligence failures.

3.      Questions are being raised inside the Pakistani establishment over the possibility of the United States trying another Abbotabad-style raid on a different target.

Pasha, who testified on the intelligence failures, echoed Gilani’s statement immediately after the bin Laden killing, saying that it was a ‘comprehensive’ intelligence failure, that all intelligence agencies should be held responsible and accountable and that the Inter Services Intelligence agency can’t take all the blame.

In fact, Pasha specifically mentioned other Pakistani security outfits like the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the police and its Special Branch (all three of which come under Interior Minister Rehman Malik) as being equally responsible for keeping watch for the presence of suspicious behaving foreigners in Pakistani territory, and concluded that they too had failed.

However, the sacred cow status of the Pakistan Army and ISI was proved once again at the session, where the decision was taken not to appease the United States by publicly discrediting the two organizations.

The ISI chief for his part ruffled Indian feathers with an incendiary remark that the Pakistan military establishment had already identified Indian targets and rehearsed a possible counter attack if India were to embark on its own Abbottabad-style adventure. The seriousness with which India views such comments was underscored by the fact that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly held a brainstorming session with his three services chiefs in New Delhi on May 16 to discuss the comments.

India is also conscious of the fact that although Pasha's remarks were made in a secret briefing, they appear to have been cleverly leaked to the media to divert the attention of the Pakistani people.