Kim Sengupta: Has Pakistani intelligence fallen out with its offspring?

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The Independent Online

Yesterday's attack in Lahore would seem to be another bloody signpost pointing towards Pakistan's slide into anarchy. There was, however, an added dimension to this particular bombing which showed the complex intrigue behind the insurgency spreading across the region.

For the first time since the start of the jihad in Pakistan, a base of the intelligence service, the ISI, was hit and a number of its agents were reported to be among the dead from the blast.

The ISI has long been the sponsors of the Taliban and other Islamist groups who are active inside Pakistan and abroad. Did the blast mean that the intelligence service had finally fallen out with its protégés?

It is not impossible. The Pakistani army offensive taking place in Swat – launched after intense pressure from the US – has caused consternation within the military/militant axis.

Some of the militant forces close to the ISI are suffering mounting losses. The attack could be the insurgents' response to what they see as the failure of the intelligence service to stop the offensive, and a warning that they are not prepared to be abandoned.

A parting of the ways between the militants and the ISI could have far-reaching consequences, with the insurgents losing the protection that they have long enjoyed by men in power.

The blast took place hours after talks between General David Petraeus, the top US general in the region, and the Pakistani government. The US wants changes to the structure and operations of the Pakistani military, weaning it away from the mindset of a conventional conflict with India and toward counter-insurgency. They want the police to take a greater role in combating terrorism and are pressing for more separation between the army and the ISI to stop soldiers being indoctrinated.

There are problems in fulfilling these aims. For many officers, the raison d'etre of Pakistan's armed forces is to confront India. The police are poorly trained and armed and in no position to take on the insurgency; and, as for separation between spies and soldiers, as a former head of the ISI, General Javed Ashraf Qazi, pointed out: "You cannot distinguish between the army and the ISI because 90 per cent of the ISI are uniformed officers. There is no distinction."