Rebuttal: Pakistan’s Invisible Soldiers

Published: September 9, 2010
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Defence analyst Lt. Gen. (retd) Asad Durrani dropped a bombshell recently with his article titled ‘Invisible Soldiers of Islam’. I am assuming most of the readers have already read the rather shocking piece so I won’t repeat his assertions here. Coming from a man of his experience and understanding of Pakistan’s strategic issues, his words have really washed away his credibility and like one reader noted he’s likely not to be taken seriously again.

General Durrani belongs to an era long gone. The choice of his article’s title is compelling evidence of it. Belonging to days when the justification of Holy War was used to draw fighters to join the Afghan resistance, the General seems to be reminiscing the once glorious days as he nears old age. If as a former DG ISI he wanted to praise his old organisation, I am sure he could have found better ways. Moreover, he failed to take into account the sensitivities of the audience he was writing for: lauding the agency’s role in frustrating Nato efforts to counter the Afghan insurgency is talk more suited in the agency’s discussion rooms than in a national newspaper. Our public does not and cannot differentiate between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’, no matter how important that distinction might be to the Army and the ISI.

I am ready to believe that not being tech-savvy Durrani could not ascertain that Smashing Lists was in no way a credible source of rankings of anything whatsoever. However I could not absorb his assertion that ‘the ratings are done professionally’. The good general should have been aware that to rate intelligence agencies is probably a job left to God alone. They are the black holes of every state, their operations, actions and plans kept secret to guard national security. Even in countries where the Freedom of Information Acts are evoked to declassify old intelligence documents, the national security argument is often used to keep information hidden forever. As with any intelligence organisation the greatest achievements are always the ones mostly closely guarded. In that light how could the general believe that any individual or organisation can actually provide a rating for intelligence agencies? Giving the agency a pan-Islamist outlook in the current times and when it finally views militancy as a greater threat to our national security than India not only hurt his own credibility but did more harm than good to the agency.

Moving forward

Moving forward to the detractors of the agency, from the failed policies in Afghanistan, to questioning its role in the fight against terrorism they lay the blame for everything going wrong today on the ISI. No one is denying mistakes made in the past but isn’t it time that we stop whining about what happened and move on? We often forget that the men in this agency come from amongst us. They too can make errors in judgement. I would strongly advise reading of Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes to highlight the botched history of the CIA. Strategic decisions made decades ago may seem foolish in hindsight but might have been the most prudent back then.

To accuse the ISI for the incompetence and failure of democratic governments is our national sport. Add to that the daily barrage of foreign news reports bashing the ISI and we see it as a sign of Providence! Numerous keyboard gangsters swarm blog sites jumping the opportunity to quote these ‘reliable’ media outlets. They probably don’t know that the first dictum of working in a clandestine service is that ‘there is no glory in intelligence’. Failures are shouted from rooftops but the most remarkable successes are always taken to the grave. The western press does a darn good job of reiterating the ISI’s failures but what of its achievements? Just because we don’t hear any doesn’t mean there aren’t any, it’s just that they aren’t for our ears in the first place. It’s the price all nations pay to safeguard their interests. We need to learn to live with it.

saad.duraiz

Saad Duraiz

A banker with a deep interest in Pakistani politics and the military.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.