Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pakistan: IFTAR surprise by ISI chief


On July 23,2009, at the request of the Editor of, I had written an article titled "Talking to the ISI". In that article, I had stated as follows: "I have been of the view that the R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing) and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) should maintain a secret liaison of which only the leaderships of the two countries should be aware.

Such a liaison helps in many ways: Firstly, it provides the leadership with a clandestine channel of communication. Secondly, intelligence chiefs of the two countries are able to know and assess each other in flesh and blood during personal meetings and not merely through media reports and uncorroborated source information. Thirdly, it helps them to pick each other's brains and understand each other's mindset.

Intelligence professionals are not like diplomats. They speak to each other more freely and frankly than diplomats do. And the fact that they enjoy the confidence of their leadership and have direct access to them for informal discussions gives them a certain self-confidence which non-intelligence senior bureaucrats do not have. There is no harm in our giving a try to the idea of an informal, clandestine one-to-one liaison relationship between the ISI and the R&AW. We should not have any illusions that it would result in a sharing of actionable intelligence. Intelligence agencies share actionable intelligence only when they have common State and non-State enemies. India and Pakistan do not have common enemies."

2. According to a despatch from Nirupama Subramanian, its correspondent in Islamabad, carried by "The Hindu" of September 11,2009, Lt.Gen.Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), attended an Iftar (breaking the holy fast after sunset) party hosted by Sharat Sabharwal, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, at an Islamabad hotel on September 10,2009. This is an important development and indicates winds of change blowing in the relations between India and Pakistan despite the perceived foot-dragging by Pakistan's Ministry of the Interior headed by Interior Minister Rehman Malik in extending the required co-operation to India in the investigation of the role of the conaspirators based in Pakistan in organising the terrorist attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba in Mumbai in November,2008.

3. One could sense that the Indian dissatisfaction over the foot-dragging has not come in the way of exploring the possibility of a liaison relationship between the appropriate agencies of the intelligence communities of the two countries. Normally, the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) should be the agency from the Indian side handling such relationship, but one should not be surprised if the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is asked to handly any liaison with the ISI in view of the fact that terrorism is at present the main issue between the two countries and the IB heads the Multi-Agency Centre against terrorism. Moreover, P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister, might prefer to have a say in the way the liaison is handled and might feel more comfortable if the IB, which works under him, handles it.

4. It is not clear whether the Indian High Commissioner's Iftar invitation to Lt.Gen.Pasha was addressed to him by name or whether the HC only invited Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), and the latter asked Lt.Gen.Pasha to represent him after obtaining the clearance of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani. i am inclined to believe that Kayani must have been invited and he must have asked Pasha to represent him because normally even between countries already having a liaison relationship, the intelligence chiefs are not invited to such functions in order to avoid public exposure. Even if invited, they politely decline the invitation.

5. Whether Lt.Gen.Pasha responded to an invitation personally addressed to him or whether he represented Gen.Kayani, who himself did not want to come, the presence of the ISI chief at the Iftar reception is a significant gesture by the Government of Zardari and has to be recognised as such.

6. Even if a formal liaison relationship between the ISI and an appropriate Indian agency has not yet been established, India should not hesitate to take the initiative in suggesting it. An intelligence liaison relationship between two countries with an adversarial relationship can be a double-edged sword. It can be beneficial sometimes. It can also harm the national interests under certain circumstances. It is a risk well worth taking. Informal discussions between the intelligence chiefs of the two countries could produce better results than discussions between the two Foreign Secretaries on the issue of terrorism.

7. One should not have any illusion of any change in Pakistan's use of terrorism against India, but clandestine discussions between intelligence chiefs can help in promoting habits of co-operation at least in the investigation of terrorism cases even if they don't help in prevention.

8. Even though Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh has put in cold storage for the time being the implementation of the Sharm-el-Sheikh agreement with Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani for the resumption of the composite dialogue, my own reading is that it was a tactical move in view of the forthcoming elections to the Maharashtra Assembly. If the Congress (I)-led coalition retains power, I would not be surprised if the implementation of the Sharm-el-Sheikh agreement is revived in some other form. The Pakistani gesture in sending Lt.Gen.Pasha to the reception is an indication that the Zardari Government understands the electoral compulsions of Dr.Manmohan Singh and wants to maintain an ambiance of goodwill despite India's foot-dragging on the Sharm-el-Sheikh agreement. (11-9-09)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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