The History of the ISI & RAW

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Pakistan_Flag Orlando–May 4–The news that is coming out of Pakistan is disturbing.  Over a month ago, the Central Government recognized the autonomy of the breathtakingly beautiful Swat Valley within the Northwest Provinces.  Thereby they allowed the leaders of the district to institute strict Islamic law.  Now, in many regions of the Muslim world, Islamic law to the tribal people within an area, is identical to that tribe’s customs.  Thus it is for the Pushtoons of Swat.  Unfortunately, the Taliban began to use the Swat District in their fight against the Pakistani Army. 

They broke their agreement with the Zardari government by infiltrating into the Buner Valley.  This district in the NWP (Northwest Provinces) is a mere 60 miles from Islamabad, the seat of the national Government.  As your reporter writes, ferocious battles are being waged between the Taliban and Rawalpindi.    In a discussion here with the modern South Asian historical researcher and literary scholar of the region, Prudence Burns, about India’s foreign intelligence gathering agency RAW (Research and Intelligence Wing) and the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) who are both in many ways similar to one another, and each an etched image of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but have been in a deadly secret war since their conception.  Because of the crisis in the Islamic Republic (above), your author will probably be returning to Pakistan on these pages as often as possible until there is a resolution of the emergency in the Northwest.

Curiously, it was RAW’s challenge to the political Center that caused the Islamic Republic to relinquish its control of its intelligence apparatus to the military cantonment-suburb of Islamabad, Rawalpindi. 

During the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi, India had several independent intelligence agencies managed by New Delhi, but it is important to stress that all reported directly to the PM (Prime Minister).  These bureaus were all trained by the CIA while keeping a close relationship with the (Israeli) Mossad.  RAW in recent years has grown independent of the rest of the Government and its owned armed forces while the ISI, on the other hand, shares the information it has gathered regularly with Islamabad’s various armed entities, but necessarily with the civilian Government.  Although they have both battled though several conflicts, they have principally acted as proxies for the CIA.  The ISI more than RAW.

During the Afghan-Soviet War of the 80s, India through its RAW became involved surreptitiously in the War in the Hindu Kush above Peshawar.  At the same time it was substantially able to infiltrate the Pakistani heartland creating attacks within their eastern neighbor.   

On the other hand, Pervez Musharraf, while still in the khaki as a high-ranking military officer, manipulated Osama bin-Laden, nonetheless, for his and his country’s objectives.  The Pakistani Government and its ISI — with U.S. blessings — employed Al-Qaida and other of the Mujahedin (indigenous and foreign – mainly brought in by the United States, too) in the Jihad against Moscow.  After the War ended in 1989, the Pakistani Army with the ISI turned their irregular allies towards Kashmir.

In effect, India and Pakistan react against each other in similar ways.  Although the then Pakistani COAS (Chief of Army Staff) General Musharraf wished to unleash types of Islamic “fundamentalism” within the Vale, RAW broke up the cells that had permeated J & K (Jammu and Kashmir) that had embed themselves amongst the citizenry.         

Succinctly, the Inter-Services Intelligence is the brainchild of the theocratic Islamic right.  If they become removed from their environment, they will become transparent.  That is, they are chameleon-like, and they cannot survive in their nakedness before their civil society.  This is, also, true on the other side of the Line of Partition, and for its foreign intelligence, etc. service, RAW.

After the attack on Mumbai by the Pakistani-based Lahkar-e-Taiba, the weakness of the present Islamic Republic’s Government became apparent in its inability to control the violent anti-social elements within its own boundaries.  With India’s sword-rattling after the first of this year, Pakistan had to shift substantial numbers of their troops to the Indian border, but now with their capital in danger of attack, it has become evident that the real danger is from within and not from the east.  At the same time it has become obvious that bourgeois democracy is failing to provide basic security there for the nation.  New more capable leaders must arise, or else Islamabad will be ruled by Rawalpindi once again!  Because of the current crisis, the “khaki” might have to move before Civil Society can reform the leading political parties.


1 reply
  1. Ilyas Ahmed
    Ilyas Ahmed says:

    ISI has become a notorious agency and could well be the reason for the downfall of Pakistan in the Global eyes