Published Feb 28, 2016 06:31am

Old DNA

Cyril Almeida

THEY need us, they fear us, they must work with us and they’re suspicious of us. Americans. But possibly the best thing they do for us is let their officials write books.

Because those books end up telling us something — about us. And them. Mostly incremental stuff, but usually useful.

And the latest contributor is Michael V. Hayden. Retired four-star air force general, former NSA chief and former CIA director.


The Pakistan Army has never, ever so relentlessly hunted an enemy that wasn’t India and is Islamist.


A man who spanned the world of US intelligence and intelligence-led counter-terrorism operations between 1999 and 2009 — years that changed the world, and Pakistan.

So, what Hayden has to say in Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror is necessarily interesting — accepting that all spies, including CIA, dissemble:

“[W]orking with Pakistan, and working with ISI in particular, was always very difficult. Pakistani and American interests in Afghanistan and in the region were not the same. That didn’t evolve out of malice, but of very different worldviews.

“In an effort to figure out why, I often asked myself, What constitutes Pakistan? Some nations (like Germany) put a lot of stock in blood; others (like us) wrap themselves around ideology. What about Pakistan?

“I came up with two things. First, it was not India. And second, Islam. And it soon became clear to me that it didn’t matter what specific issue I was raising with my ISI counterpart.

“Fundamentally, what I was asking my partner to do was to pay less attention to India (which he would never do) and cooperate with me in making war on a small and particularly virulent slice of Islam (which he would find very difficult to do).”

Hayden’s official contacts with Pakistan — the very highest echelons of power in Pakistan — ended in early 2009. Since then, Pakistan has moved on.

Since then, we haven’t talked to India, but neither have we tried to fight them. Since then, we have fought what is already by far and away the longest war in our history — against Islamists.

Since then, Pakistan has paid less attention to India and made war on a small and particularly virulent slice of Islam. Since then, has Pakistan changed?

Lurking in the background of Raheel’s war has been that question.

Musharraf first suggested it, Kayani flirted with it, but Raheel has taken it up most forcefully — the Pakistan Army has never, ever so relentlessly hunted an enemy that wasn’t India and is Islamist.

And have a look at what comes next. In nine months, Raheel will go home. Whoever follows Raheel will be even more steeped in counter-insurgency and counterterrorism than Raheel.

After that, the guy who’ll follow the next chief, some four years from now, will possibly know little else in his career as a commander other than fighting militancy and terrorism.

With that kind of future, the army can’t possibly stay the same, can it?

It is a seductive idea: an army rooted in fighting India and championing Islam being forced to fight rabid Islamism and learning through counter-insurgency and counterterrorism who the real enemy is.

But like most seductive ideas, its veracity is suspect. Militancy may be a long war, but it will eventually be won, more or less. Meanwhile, the eternal enemy will have only grown stronger and pulled further ahead.

So, by the time the military will emerge victorious, more or less, in the longest war in our history, it will be faced with the most powerful and militarised a foe it will ever have had to contend with — India.

That’s one way of looking at it.

There is, of course, another way of looking at it: the India obsession got us into the militancy mess to begin with, so ratchet down the India obsession and most other problems will dilute themselves.

Essentially, save Pakistan by making Pakistan about Pakistan instead of the not-India, Islamist version of Pakistan.

But counterterrorism operations and counter-insurgencies don’t rewrite the DNA of countries. It’s institutions that do. And here Hayden presciently, if a little obviously, identified the problem: the ISI.

“ISI was a complex organisation. We got along well enough with the counterterrorism branch, but we also knew that, all the while, other parts of the organisation were sustaining Pakistani ties to Pashtun and other militants as a head against Indian establishment.”

And this: “But ISI often acted like a plural noun.”

And this, too: “ISI was a heavily compartmented organisation.”

Until the plural becomes a singular, until the compartments all don’t collapse into one, the old problem will remain — whatever else needs to be fought will be fought, but the core will always be focused on India.

Even Raheel — determined, decisive, pragmatic Raheel — has not been able to collapse plural into singular. He wasn’t able to with the dharna and he hasn’t with Afghanistan and he can’t with India.

But in Hayden’s ruminations about Pakistan he also unwittingly identifies a contributing factor to Pakistan’s India obsession: the US itself. America needs us, America fears us, America is suspicious of us — but America still works with us.

Shuja Pasha is duplicitous, Kayani is reluctant — but each of them is courted assiduously and from each of them is extracted cooperation that America found just enough of to avert its eyes from all else that may have been going wrong.

So, like many American principals who’ve written books before him, Hayden too avoids a basic question: is Pakistan the way it is because that is the way it is or because that is the way it is allowed to be?

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2016

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