180508    11/28/2008 12:56    08ISLAMABAD3717    Embassy Islamabad    CONFIDENTIAL        "VZCZCXRO1696 OO RUEHLH RUEHPW DE RUEHIL #3717/01 3331256 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 281256Z NOV 08 FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0407 INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 9478 RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 9170 RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 4104 RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 0702 RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 6432 RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 5290 RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY RHWSMRC/USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY"    "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 003717

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/26/2018 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, PK SUBJECT: ISI DISBANDS ITS ""POLITICAL WING""

Classified By: CDA Gerald Feierstein, for reasons 1.4 (b), (d).

1. (C) Summary: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was quoted in the press November 23 saying that the political wing of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) had been disbanded.  ""The ISI is a precious national institution and wants to focus on counterterrorism activities,"" said Qureshi. On November 27, Prime Minister Gilani followed with an official announcement that ""the political wing of ISI has been closed.""  ISI Chief Lt. General Pasha speaking to Embassy officers clarified that ISI was not getting involved with politics and this was being done on ISI's own initiative.  This move is the result of a natural rearrangement within the ISI and not - as the press seems to want to portray - a strategic shift or the result of external political pressure.  Directorate C, which has long been responsible for questionable political activities, will continue to exist and likely focus on counterintelligence and counterterrorism.  Curtailing ISI's political activities is a welcome move in Pakistan, where intelligence agencies have a perpetually negative reputation of meddling in politics. End summary.

2. (C) During a press conference in Multan on November 23, the Foreign Minister was questioned as to whether the ISI was meddling in political affairs.  Qureshi responded that the political wing had been made ""inactive"" and the personnel will be assigned to other offices, according to press reports.

3. (C) In speaking with the DCM and visiting Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli on November 24, National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani credited the move to ISI Chief Lt. General Pasha.  Durrani explained that the political wing had actually been established under former Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.  He described ISI as a basically good institution that can change based on how the political leadership chooses to use it.  Durrani said that Gilani had asked, in a non-confrontational manner, why the ISI should be involved in politics.  According to Durrani, Pasha had agreed and had shifted ISI work out of the political arena.  This follows steps by Chief of Army Staff General Kayani in 2007 to transfer serving military officers out of Musharraf-era appointments in the civil service.

3. (C) Pasha told Embassy officials that he was surprised that so much attention was being paid to the move.  Pasha said that the Brigadier who had been in charge of the political wing (within Directorate C) was going to be moved on his normal rotation and the position would be left unfilled, thus ""deactivating"" the wing.  According to Pasha, this move was an ordinary one and not the result of any strategic restructuring. The political wing within Directorate C has long been responsible for political influence and taskings by politicians. Directorate C will now likely focus on counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

4. (C) On November 27, Prime Minister Gilani made an official announcement about the closing of the political wing.  He said the move ""would improve the effectiveness of the ISI as one of the premier institutions of national security apparatus of the country.""  Gilani's statement was terse and did not reveal many details of the shift.  Newspapers continue to speculate about how Directorate C will shift its attention to counterintelligence and counterterrorism.  Also the commentators observe that political activity will become the responsibility of the Intelligence Bureau, a civilian organization under the Ministry of Interior.

5. (C) Comment: The ISI's move to curtail political involvement is welcomed both by political parties and the public.  It is a step that will further Kayani's goal of repairing the military's reputation.  The move, explained by ""normal rotations"" in the same manner that Kayani used to replace former ISI Chief Taj with MG Pasha, does not necessarily represent a strategic shift in focus or a major reorganization of the ISI. Though the political wing has been deactivated, it could easily be reconstituted since the larger Directorate C, and its structure, are still intact. However, less ISI involvement in politics does create more political goodwill that will strengthen ISI's ability to pursue counterterrorism goals. End comment.

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