Rebuttal: Pakistan’s Invisible Soldiers

Published: September 9, 2010

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

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.

  • faraz

    Internal security is a major paramater of success of a state agency. Total breakdown of law and order is visible to all. Taliban took complete control of FATA and Malakand and hundreds of blasts killed thousands of men. And all this was the work of our “strategic assets” with whom our “invisible soldiers” dealt for 3 decades! I dont know of any other country having professional agencies experiencing such chaos as we do. You dont need to read foreign newspapers to realize that. But if we can celebrate defence day for a war that we lost, whats wrong with crowning ISI with the title of the No.1 agency! Recommend

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    We shouldn’t even have to differentiate between “good” and “bad” Taliban to begin with. Citizens of Pakistan are dying on the street as they go about their daily lives. As the carnage continues more questions are being asked.The image and perception of the ISI is inconsequential, and whether I, the people of Pakistan and the rest of the world like it or not is inconsequential to its role in providing intelligence to serve the interests of Pakistan, and hopefully by extension protecting the people that live within her. As long as the body count continues to rise, there will always be cynicism and scepticism, as the shortcomings the ISI, or any arm of the state for that matter cannot be veiled behind references to nationalism and patriotism.Recommend

  • mehdi army

    Islam is not about Nationalism. It has never been. Holy Prophet Muhammad p.b.u.h was not a Pakistani or Indonesian or Saudi or Kuwaiti or Jordanian or Egyptian or anything of that sort. He was a Prophet for whole world and for whole mankind.
    Invoking Nationalism has been a ploy of Anti Muslim forces to divide the Muslims and keep them busy fighting each other while they themselves have been making alliances like European Union, NATO, G20 etc. They are most afraid of only one thing: Muslims leaving behind nationalism and re-uptaking Islamism. That’s why their media (and our media under the lead of their media) have been tirelessly busy to defame Islamists as Terrorists, radicals, extremists and what not. Recommend

  • Farhan Javed

    Brilliant Saad! very well written.Recommend

  • jamal

    With all due respect, Asad Durrani’s article only ENHANCED his credibility in my humble opinion – his opinions and unique articles are really second to none – especially in an age where any old intellectual pygmy can get his or her silly views published. Mr Durrani remains a national treasure and I certainly did not find his previous article “shocking”. Why sensationalise?….which brings me on to this, sadly, amateurish attempt at a rebuttal – a review on the current ground realities of how the war in Afghanistan is being prosecuted MAY change the authors mind. Most crucially the author missed the WHOLE point of Durrani’s argument and that his views are precisely written to send a message to those in the public – who contrary to the authors’ assertions, DO actually exist and CAN differentiate between the bad/good Talibs. Peace.Recommend

  • Ammar

    Is it not true that our defense establishment has forcedly kept this country a garrison state? Is it not true that every political government after 1971 was destabilized by your favorite establishment? Is it not true that ISI is an important organ of our national security establishment? Is it not the responsibility of national security agency to protect population from the mass murderers? Is the continuation of blasts not an evidence of collapse of entire national security apparatus in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Shemrez Nauman Afzal

    What a breath of fresh air. Recommend

  • Shemrez Nauman Afzal

    @Ammar: stop being a keyboard gangster. we’re in it as much as you are, and if you have a better idea or solution, do share that with us. we’ve had enough history lessons to ask for another one from you. Recommend

  • parvez

    Good article but you seem to be blowing hot and then cold.
    The the first part you critique the general – pretty good.
    The second part you defend the intelligence services – sorry cannot fully agree with you here, I go with the gist of Ammar’s comments.Recommend

  • Salman Arshad

    All we have after all the successes of ISI is our bare country land with a border around it. And literally ALL of our resources were spent to have just so much !!! And we are doing that even today !!!
    To the writer: We need to get the ISI under govt. control as soon as possible. That is the only “way forward” .. all other ways take us at the same place we started. We are just moving Round and Round the year 1947.Recommend