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US official makes public demand for reforming ISI

September 17, 2008

WASHINGTON, Sept 16: A proposal for reforming the ISI – now publicly articulated by a senior US official – was discussed thoroughly between Pakistani and American authorities during Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s visit to Washington in July.

CIA chief Michael V. Hayden had an exclusive meeting with the prime minister during his visit, presenting him with a “charge-sheet” on the spy agency’s alleged involvement in jihadi activities.

Later, in an interview to Washington Times, Mr Gilani said that CIA deputy director Stephen R. Kappes and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael G. Mullen visited Islamabad in mid-July with reports of some ISI officials’ alleged links with the militants.

And on Monday, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said at a private luncheon in Washington that the controversial spy agency needed reform but there’s no indication this was happening.

“It has to be done,” said Mr Boucher in his speech at the Thomson Reuters Bureau. Asked if he had seen signs of reform, he told Reuters: “No, I don’t have anything in particular I would point to right now.”

Asked why the new Pakistani government was more likely to act than its predecessor, Mr Boucher replied: “It’s sad to say, but the problem has become more and more acute.”

Mr Boucher warned that “as long as you have organisations, or pieces of organisations, that work in different directions, then it’s harder for the government to accomplish the goal” of defeating terrorists based in the tribal region and elsewhere in Pakistan.

According to diplomatic sources here, the United Stats is trying to work out an arrangement with Pakistan for curtailing ISI’s power.

Under this new arrangement, the ISI wing which deals with internal security is to be transferred to the interior ministry and the agency is to be asked to reduce its role in the war on terror.

The US administration believes that this arrangement should be acceptable to the new civilian government in Islamabad as well because it can end the agency’s interference in Pakistan’s domestic politics and thus prevent future military takeovers.

Taking away the authority to deal with the militants, a power the ISI has enjoyed since the Afghan war, could help the United States meet its goal of severing the agency’s alleged links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

When the proposal was first discussed with Pakistan’s civilian government, they were not sure they could accomplish this task. They felt that the civilians were still too weak to take on the ISI.

Mr Boucher’s decision to go public with a demand so far discussed privately between the two governments, however, is an attempt to tell the civilians that Washington expects them to act now.

It is also linked to Washington’s decision to increase the heat on the militants and is part of the same policy that has led to renewed US military actions against militant hideouts in Fata.

The Americans feel that while Pakistan’s civilian government may not have been strong enough to take on the ISI when the prime minister visited Washington in July, it is now. They believe that Asif Ali Zardari’s thumping victory in the presidential elections earlier this month has created a civilian set-up in Islamabad which has all the powers it needs to reform the ISI.