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The countries of South Asia constitute one of the most conflict-prone areas in the world. India and Pakistan, with their well-equipped military forces, face each other in a politically volatile situation….
Hein G. Kiessling’s Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan, is a detailed account of the history and the working of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI). Created in 1948, as a result of substantial military reconnaissance gaps during the first India- Pakistan war on Kashmir, it’s creation can also be linked to Britain’s post-colonial interests in the region, especially after the Second World War. With well-documented references and his own analytical expertise, the author tactfully peels off the layers that shroud the secret service. As each page turns, it unravels the mystery surrounding the functioning of the ISI and the Military Intelligence, and the intricacies of the democratic functioning of Pakistan. It is interesting to know how the ideologies and objectives of the agency have affected the internal and external affairs of the country.
The author attributes the rise of the ISI to the lack of political acumen, which further led to the increased dependency on the agency. Add to it, the Cold War and America’s need to find allies to eavesdrop on the Soviet Union, the ISI became indispensable. The agency’s involvement in Afghanistan, Punjab, Kashmir, the Balkans and Central Asia, has brought the ISI under intense scrutiny for it’s alleged links with dissident groups.…In the period when General Zia-UL-Haq was COAS, 1976-88, the ISI underwent a large scale and profound reevaluation…. It was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 rather than the coup d’etat by the Pakistan military that benefited the ISI, allowing them to develop into a regional player with activities and goals, not supervised or coordinated by any other authority, whether parliament of foreign, internal, finance or defence ministries…. Each era, under each of the Director General, is presented chronologically, highlighting the political scenario in Pakistan and the surrounding region. While the author does give his opinion, he also quotes well-known experts from Pakistan, India and USA ,even if contradictory of his observations and assessments.
…The external and internal challenges facing Pakistan are continually being reassessed by the agency….The Kashmir issue remains still on the ISI’s agenda, including the preservation of water rights for Pakistan. The drone attack phenomenon is also unresolved… Within Pakistan… Parliament and the courts no longer hesitate to make inquiries and to demand written or oral statements from ISI personnel… Demands for reform and stronger democratic control of the ISI have also become more insistent…. For the military, the ISI is an important tool for information-gathering and decision-making; they do not want to lose an iota of control over it….It remains to be seen whether this government has the will and the power to consider implementing the necessary reforms in their remaining years in office.
In August 2015, the ISI sent the author two official statements, listing the realities and misperceptions relating to Balochistan, R&AW’s involvement and the organisational structure of the ISI. These have also been presented to the readers.
A sheer coincidence that I am reviewing Kiessling’s Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan on the anniversary of one of the deadliest attacks on India. The book may be about the ISI, but it can hold true for any agency, in any country. Over the years, the need for intelligence, counter-intelligence and espionage has changed drastically. Technological advancements have also changed the way these agencies function. Their operations and agendas weave a convoluted web, affecting not just their own governments, but impacting world politics as well.
A must read!
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