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ISI Flashpoint: Kiyani-Zardari Conflict

In today's DailyBriefing, we included a link to The Pakistan Policy Blog to a piece titled 'The Line of Control'. Below is an extensive excerpt that provides an important glimpse into the friction between General Kiyani and President Zardari. It may potentially evolve into the flashpoint that triggers yet another coup in Pakistan, as I alluded to last month in "Start Your Kiyani Coup-Coup Clock, Boys" at The Tank on National Review Online. It depends on how hard Zardari (and teh US) pushes for civilian control of the ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence arm with historic and contemporary ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Neither the Pakistani public nor its security establishment will accept compromise on Kashmir in a context of weakness. Gen. Kayani has spoken of “peace through strength.”

TARGETING ISI WILL BACKFIRE ON ZARDARI

In this context, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s calls for the “reform” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence will hit a brick wall. The civilian government is, in effect, being thrown at this wall, i.e. the army, and will bear the direct consequences of such action. This is something Zardari must consider out of both self and national interest.

Moreover, the idea of reform presupposes the existence of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in this realm. Intelligence agencies by nature operate in an amoral universe. They are tasked with doing the government’s dirty work clandestinely and non-conventionally. Their sole task is to serve the national interest, unconstrained not by conventional bounds but simply by capability and risk. Criticizing one agency on moral grounds makes little sense — they all play the same game by the same (lack of) rules. There is not a conflict of morals, but of interests. These can only be dealt with by clandestine competition or dialogue and compromise at a conventional level. The latter is the more prudent path.

The first target of ISI “reform” would seemingly be the organization’s director general, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj. Indeed, some in Washington are pressing for civilian control of the ISI. This is a recipe for disaster. Zardari’s earlier attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control failed. After another attempt, he’ll find himself sitting out on the pavement outside of the presidential palace. Zardari lacks the legitimacy and power with which to assert himself over the military. While the Pakistani public supports the cessation of the ISI’s political role, there is no support for tying the organization’s hands in other matters. If pressed by Zardari, Gen. Kayani would be forced to enter the political realm, against his will, because of civilian excess. Zardari should be wiser and focus on his self-proclaimed mandate of roti (bread), kapra (clothing), and makan (a home).

And so, Gen. Kayani is delineating the parameters of acceptable discourse on Kashmir, and at a broader level, Pakistan’s national security issues. Gen. Kayani has given the civilians free reign over non-security matters. He has, however, drawn a line in the sand. The civilians cannot pass the line of control into his own domain. Given Zardari’s consolidation of power and the absence of checks and balances upon him, a foolish press against the military would compel that institution to intervene, making his presidency the shortest in Pakistan’s history.

I think Arif Rafiq's observations here are (again) very valuable to consider when attempting to project a near- to mid-term Pakistani environment.