Lt. Gen­eral (R) Asad Dur­rani talks to Arsla Jawaid in this exclusive in­ter­view.

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What is the gen­e­sis of the ISI and why is it called Pak­istan’s first line of de­fense against the en­emy?

In­tel­li­gence is gen­er­ally the first line of de­fense against an ex­ter­nal threat. It is the ISI’s first and fore­most duty to make an as­sess­ment and give ad­vanced warn­ing to other in­sti­tu­tions. The­o­ret­i­cally, there may be very many other things that it may have to also as­sess, such as in­ter­nal threat and strength. How­ever, the ISI’s main job is to make an as­sess­ment of the for­eign threat and give warn­ing. With a demo­cratic govern­ment in power, ru­mors tend to cir­cu­late re­gard­ing an un­easy re­la­tion­ship be­tween the civil­ian govern­ment and the mil­i­tary. Could you com­ment on that?

Through­out the his­tory of this coun­try, there has been a prob­lem be­tween the mil­i­tary and civil­ian govern­ment. One can go back and say that the mil­i­tary has al­ways played a role in this part of the world. The fact is that since in­de­pen­dence, the mil­i­tary came to the fore given the In­dian prob­lem and the Kash­mir prob­lem. Of course, the civil­ian struc­ture was not in place to take charge of the sit­u­a­tion and lacked the abil­ity to cre­ate ro­bust struc­tures. So they started re­ly­ing upon the mil­i­tary.

The mil­i­tary was ex­pand­ing be­cause of a very early re­la­tion­ship with the U.S., which es­sen­tially be­came a mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship. The mil­i­tary dis­cov­ered that it had pow­er­ful sup­port­ers in Wash­ing­ton and other cap­i­tals around the world. That gave the in­sti­tu­tion the sta­tus that it en­joys to­day. Re­gard­less of what one says, on the strate­gic books, the ISI is not a mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tion. It is a na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion but it did be­come staffed by the mil­i­tary. So the an­swer lies in the his­tory of Pak­istan in which the mil­i­tary played a strong role, be­cause of which the ISI too played a role. The ISI is sup­posed to draw its op­er­a­tives from all the three wings of the Armed Forces. Why is it iden­ti­fied with the Army alone and why does it al­ways have an army gen­eral as its chief?

The Army con­sti­tutes the largest per­cent­age, around 70-80%, of the Pak­istan Armed Forces. Some oth­ers are from Air Force and Navy. In my time it was 10%. Be­cause the Army con­sti­tutes a large per­cent­age that is why an Army gen­eral is also the head of the ISI. That is the Army’s ar­gu­ment. But the ac­tual rea­son is just that the Army com­mands an ex­tra­or­di­nary sta­tus in the coun­try, in the hi­er­ar­chy, and in the polity. That’s just the way the coun­try is. He may not be num­ber one in terms of pro­to­col, but he is of prime im­por­tance be­cause of the Army’s role, and what he could do and has to do. What are your thoughts on Gen­eral Mushar­raf’s trial and how do you see it play­ing out?

The ISI plays no role in mil­i­tary coups. It just hap­pens to be more or less part of the mil­i­tary when it takes over. It does not play any role in the tak­ing over. Later on, the mil­i­tary rulers rely more on the ISI, even for the in­ter­nal work. It does them no good. It does the ISI no good. But they do that and the ISI gets in­volved in those op­er­a­tions and those mat­ters where ac­tu­ally it has nei­ther any busi­ness nor is it any good at do­ing. The ISI’s po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment, when­ever it re­sorts to that, brings some very tem­po­rary gains be­cause it is not cut out to be a part of that.

As for Mushar­raf, there are two things which will de­ter­mine the course. First is the le­gal process. I think it will get so com­plex that one will be look­ing for a way to get out of it un­less you ma­nip­u­late the ju­di­ciary. Sec­ond, de­spite all the good ad­vice given to the govern­ment, one will be try­ing to see if it can be wrapped up. It is quite pos­si­ble that some people may be ob­sessed with go­ing through it for per­sonal rea­sons. That is pos­si­ble. Ul­ti­mately, what­ever

may hap­pen they must find a po­lit­i­cal, not le­gal so­lu­tion. The me­dia and the Afghan govern­ment have of­ten ac­cused the Pak­istan govern­ment or the ISI of as­sist­ing the Tal­iban to gain power in Afghanistan or to counter an In­dian threat in the coun­try in or­der to main­tain ‘strate­gic depth’. Can you pro­vide a back­ground to this?

The ISI ac­quired its ex­tra­or­di­nary sta­tus be­cause of the Afghan war. It was the in­stru­ment from the Pak­istani side that be­came re­spon­si­ble for lo­gis­ti­cally and op­er­a­tionally or­ga­niz­ing the Afghan re­sis­tance. Be­cause of that it ac­quired a lot of ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The sup­port of the Tal­iban has never been be­cause of In­dia. The Afghans will not fight on our be­half. The Afghans, when they are free and masters of their own des­tiny, look af­ter Pak­istan be­cause of the stake that they have in this coun­try. Where else do they go when they are try­ing to flee a war? They buy property here and they do their busi­ness here. Pak­istan was also once the main win­dow of Afghan sur­vival. Now, with Karachi host­ing the largest ur­ban Pash­tun pop­u­la­tion in the world, they have stakes there.

Dur­ing the ’65 and ‘71 wars, they en­sured peace on our western borders and asked us to take all our se­cu­rity forces to the East. So that is the rea­son for Pak­istan try­ing to ul­ti­mately achieve a sit­u­a­tion where the Afghans are free from dom­i­nance. That in a nut­shell is the pol­icy. Now, how it is por­trayed and if covert help is be­ing given to the Afghan re­sis­tance, is dif­fer­ent. They will re­main at our borders and we are not go­ing to make en­e­mies of these people. The ISI has also come into the lime­light re­cently due to its stand­off with the me­dia. What were the rea­sons that led Geo to name the ISI DG as be­ing be­hind the shoot­ing on Hamid Mir?

I am not fol­low­ing that. I do think that the me­dia had so much power and money that they were cre­at­ing more con­fu­sion, poi­son­ing people’s minds and may also have started be­liev­ing they could get away with any­thing. Ul­ti­mately, it is bet­ter that this can be fought out and ad­dressed within the me­dia. The ISI can take a back­seat. Re­lax. What are your thoughts on the over­all Pak­istani strat­egy of con­duct­ing peace talks with the Tal­iban, de­spite the fact that these talks were hardly ne­go­ti­ated from a po­si­tion of strength?

‘Ne­go­ti­at­ing from strength’ is one of the broad­est con­cepts I have ever come across. How do you achieve this? By mil­i­tary means or by any other way? In 2002, the Tal­iban told the Afghan regime that they were pre­pared to talk. The regime said ‘ Who are you? You don’t count.’ Their po­si­tion was never weak around that time. So they did not talk. Now what hap­pens when that is re­versed? Es­sen­tially, it is a com­bi­na­tion of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and per­sua­sion. Call it po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue but it al­ways hap­pens be­hind closed doors. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing that leads to some stage where one could say ‘the time now is right.’ The Tal­iban in­sur­gents have been suf­fi­ciently weak­ened, paci­fied or are suf­fer­ing from prob­lems within, that reach­ing a deal might be pos­si­ble.

But with the Federal govern­ment and the Tal­iban in­sur­gency, it will take a long time. If this govern­ment thought that go­ing open on the strat­egy of ‘talk­ing’ would help, I don’t think it will hap­pen that way. Some mil­i­tary oper­a­tion or some clan­des­tine oper­a­tion must be un­der­way. There must be a po­lit­i­cal rea­son for this un­less of course they want to con­vey this mes­sage to those people who are ad­vo­cat­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, to tell them ‘look we tried.’

I do not know what is the wis­dom be­hind it; if it is po­lit­i­cal or se­cu­rity. Ac­tu­ally how it hap­pens is how you de­ter­mine what is the right time to strike a deal. It will not hap­pen overnight. Ne­go­ti­at­ing is a con­tin­u­ous process. How do you see Afghanistan post2014 and Pak­istan’s role in the re­gion as well as with the U.S?

I be­lieve Pak­istan has po­si­tioned it­self well to play a strong role. When fu­ture sce­nar­ios are so un­cer­tain, you have to keep your op­tions open. And this was pos­si­ble not be­cause of the army or the ISI but be­cause of a com­bined civil-mil­i­tary pol­icy that evolved un­der the pre­vi­ous govern­ment and prob­a­bly continues un­der the present govern­ment. We have more stakes than any­one else in the re­gion. We’ve had time to pre­pare in the last 5 to ten years and we’ve worked hard. We are poised to help or fa­cil­i­tate ma­jor Afghan fac­tions to reach a con­sen­sus be­cause that is the only way Afghanistan be­comes vi­brant and sta­ble. That has been Pak­istan’s pol­icy ever since I have known it.

Over the last three years, Pak­istan has reached out to all Afghan fac­tions and re­gional neigh­bors to ex­press a de­sire to work to­gether. What­ever the Afghans come up with, will be ac­cept­able to all of us. That is the pol­icy.

In terms of the U.S., I am sure we are work­ing to get their com­plete de­par­ture from the area. I have a prob­lem with those who think that a com­plete de­par­ture will be detri­men­tal to Afghanistan. I be­lieve that as long as they stay here and if there is a mil­i­tary pres­ence as out­lined in the BSA, some Afghans will keep tar­get­ing it. If it is be­nign, in the sense that it is fi­nan­cial sup­port, then of course that would be con­struc­tive. We po­si­tion our­selves be­cause we don’t know what will hap­pen. If Pres­i­dent Karzai signs the BSA, one can be quite sure that if the mil­i­tary or money comes in, the war continues. He has al­ways known that but over the last two years he has been play­ing this card a lit­tle more openly.

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