This morning, The New York Times has a front page story stating that U.S. intelligence has determined that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, aided the July 7, 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The conclusion was “based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack…”
This is a very big deal. Indian intelligence sees the ISI behind every adverse event (it should be noted that sometimes, this assessment is correct), but oftentimes the follow-up investigation is lax and inconclusive. India’s security services are of uneven quality (with, it should be emphasized, some able people in top slots) and blaming the ISI is easier than engaging in the needed long-term reform. More recently Afghanistan’s President Karzai has been publicly accusing Pakistan of supporting the Taliban against his regime.
But for U.S. intelligence, particularly the CIA (which has a long working relationship with the ISI) to come to this conclusion – and allow it to appear in the newspaper of record is an event of a different magnitude altogether and it should be taken very seriously. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s Prime Minister has denied this support. But the U.S., which has given Pakistan billions in aid since 9/11 and tried to build a strategic alliance, would have little incentive to accuse Pakistan of something so serious.
Unfortunately, effective policy options are not readily available. Too much pressure could isolate Pakistan and lead to a rupture in relations. This is inadvisable - since Pakistan is nuclear-armed, and al-Qaeda cannot be neutralized and Afghanistan cannot be stabilized without Pakistani cooperation. Pakistan can also turn to other powers (particularly China, which is building a giant port at Gwadar) for support.
Also, Pakistan is not completely hopeless. While radical Islam is on the rise in Pakistan, considering how poorly the country has been governed it is surprising that the Pakistani people have not turned even more strongly to radical Islam. The government has recently returned to democracy - a corrupt, inept democracy - but one of the few in the Muslim world.
Pakistan, is one of the central theaters in the war on terror. The recently reported revelations about its intelligence agency's involvement with Islamist terrorists make this an unavoidable reality about Pakistan that the next administration will need to face directly, with resolve, subtlety, and creativity.
But, as Doug Farah notes, simply writing checks is insufficient.