Mullah Omar disclosure is yet another case for the closure of ISI Special Wing

The recent revelation that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) gave shelter to Mullah Omar in 2001 once again confirms the theory that Pakistan is the originator of the Taliban, and is the crucible of global terror

Rajeev Sharma September 05, 2015 14:57:33 IST
Mullah Omar disclosure is yet another case for the closure of ISI Special Wing

The recent revelation that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) gave shelter to Mullah Omar in 2001 once again confirms the theory that Pakistan is the originator of the Taliban, and is the crucible of global terror. It did not surprise anyone when news filtered through, via an email in former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email dump that after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban leadership took shelter in Pakistan and Mullah Omar stayed in an ISI safe house in Quetta. Further details of this news can be accessed here.

That the latest bit of information has emerged soon after the deliberate release of news that Omar has been dead since 2013 should also not surprise many. After all, the US has long known that Pakistan is the point of origin for many terror organisations, including the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). What is critical, however, is that the ISI which is the preceptor of many such organisations, remains impervious to international condemnation. This is both a matter of convenience and concern to international players like the United States.

Mullah Omar disclosure is yet another case for the closure of ISI Special Wing

File photo of ISI chief Zahir-ul-Islam. Reuters

It may be recalled that some years ago, the US had sought the closure of the Special Wing (S-Wing) of the ISI. What is so special about this wing? It is part of the covert operations wing of the ISI and undertakes black operations across South Asia and elsewhere, with a sharp focus on Afghanistan and India.

The existence of the S-Wing has been known about for some time, but it came into the open in 2011 in a Chicago court, when a jury tried a Pakistani-born businessman. He was accused of using his US visa-processing company to provide logistical cover to the terrorists who carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, in which about 170 people were killed, including six Americans. The defendant, Tahawwur Rana, was accused of providing logistical support to the operations of the LeT — the Pakistan-based group that carried out the attacks in Mumbai. Subsequently, US officials revealed that it was the S-Wing that sheltered then Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

American intelligence has long known that the ISI has had ties with both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It is also well known that the S-Wing is involved in arming the Taliban, which has been at war and continues to be at war with American troops in Afghanistan.

This particular S-Wing should not be confused with the Special Wing, which is responsible for all intelligence training in the Defence Services Intelligence Academy, and for liaison with foreign intelligence and security agencies.

A 2009 article in the New York Times reveals that the S-Wing is the main provider of funding, training, protection, and intelligence for the Haqqani Network, Afghan Taliban, LeT, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar groups. These groups are tipped off about planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S-Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups.

It is open knowledge that ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help formulate strategy. Sources also reveal that the ISI’s S-Wing has on its rolls, a number of retired military personnel as well as terrorists

Manzoor Ijaz, a US citizen of Pakistan origin wrote exhaustively on the ISI in the Financial Times. He stated that “the finger of responsibility in many otherwise inexplicable attacks has often pointed to a shadowy outfit of ISI dubbed as S-Wing”. Back then, Ijaz argued that the time was ripe for the US State Department to declare the S-Wing a sponsor of terrorism under the designation of “foreign governmental organisations”.

The S-Wing is also identified as the logistics and military support provider to the Haqqani Network. Ijaz aptly concludes that “ISI embodies the scourge of radicalism that has become a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.” Additionally, it was ISI’s Joint Intelligence North (JIN) division that was responsible for the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, and Afghanistan.

JIN controls the Army of Islam, consisting of organisations such as the Al-Qaeda, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), the LeT, the Al-Badr and Maulana Masood Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammad. It also controls all the opium cultivation, and heroin refining and smuggling from Pakistani and Afghan territory. But over a period of time, the connection between terrorist entities like the LeT and other groups has been kept alive through the S-Wing.

In fact, one could even propose that S-Wing recruits terrorists to its ranks, and individuals such as Hafiz Saeed could even be on the payroll of the ISI. Thus, it can be safely assumed that ISI is the real architect of global terror organisations. This leaves us with another question: Given its links to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, it is only natural that it would be in touch with terror franchisees across the world, but what about the Islamic State (IS) headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

Going on past experience, the ISI quite likely has a finger on the pulse of the IS too. It is obvious that those on its payroll like the LeT, would send feelers to the IS. For the ISI, the presence of the IS in Afghanistan provides a counter to the Afghan Taliban, which of late appears to be splintering in the aftermath of the announcement of Omar’s death.

The US would do well to take note of the role of the ISI within Pakistan and its export of terror.

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