U.S. intelligence agencies have publicly claimed that intercepted communications show that officers of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency, were responsible for the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 7. The government of Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of being behind the attack, as well as an earlier assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
What is unusual about this story is not the claim that ISI would be involved in such an act of terrorism, but that the US is publicly accusing Pakistan of such. The US has strongly supported Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf while criticizing the newly elected government in which parties opposed to Musharraf and his policies have taken power.
When it became known shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that the head of the ISI, Mahmud Ahmed, was linked to the man then regarded by investigators as the 9/11 paymaster, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who wired $100,000 to hijacker Mohammed Atta in Florida, Ahmed was quietly removed from his office and the matter was hushed up. According to Indian intelligence, it was at the behest of Ahmed that Sheikh made the transfer.
Sheikh was later connected to the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was said by some who knew him to be investigating ties between the ISI and terrorist organizations. And according to Musharraf himself, Sheikh was formerly an asset of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency.
The pronouncement by the US of the ISI’s involvement in this terrorist attack is yet another indication that the US is putting the pressure on the democratically elected Pakistan government to fall in line and get behind Washington’s man Musharraf, an unelected dictator who took power in a bloodless coup whom the Bush administration still supports.
The official version of events is that the US is unhappy with the Pakistan government’s declared intention of negotiating with militant and tribal leaders in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Washington earlier this year blamed such talks for an increase in attacks on US, NATO, and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, despite the fact that violence has been steadily increasing over a period of years and that attacks annually increase after the spring thaw in the mountains along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
What is really going on is less clear, but there is certainly more to it. It is US policies going back decades, from the Soviet-Afghan war through the “war on terrorism” that have led to increasing destabilization of both countries. Plans to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan existed prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but, as numerous high-level government officials explained during the 9/11 Commission hearings, there was a lack of political will and public support until 9/11, which was compared with the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor.
The 9/11 attacks were viewed by many as an “opportunity” not only to implement planned regime change in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, but, by these means to affect the “transformation” of the US military into a force for global hegemony, particularly with regard to the energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia.
Oil and other natural resources are only a part of the equation, however. There is also the drugs trade. The drugs trade helped financed the CIA-backed mujahedeen during the Soviet-Afghan war and Pakistan’s economy was bolstered by the trade. The Taliban had succeeded in virtually eradicating the opium poppy production in Afghanistan by 2001, but following the US overthrow of the brutal Taliban regime, opium production has soared, surpassing all previous records, so that today, according to the UN, 92% of the world’s heroin is produced in Afghanistan.
Another aspect of the US relationship with Pakistan has been the nuclear black market. The US, at best, turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons during the effort to support the mujahedeen against Afghanistan’s government, in which the ISI served as the CIA’s intermediary.
But there are indications that the US’s complicity in the black market that arose in Pakistan, revolving around the character of A.Q. Khan, who is considered the “father” of Pakistan’s bomb, goes well beyond looking the other way. It has long been well known that Khan had built a network that supplied nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran, and numerous other countries. But the official version has it that Khan was a rogue, acting without government sanction and without government knowledge.
This version is simply not credible. But to hide the embarrassing truth, Washington made a deal with Pakistan in which the government, under Musharraf, would be exonerated and Khan made scapegoat. Khan publicly declared that he alone was responsible for the underground nuclear network, and was placed under house arrest.
Earlier this year, however, after the election of the new government and marginalization of Musharraf, Khan recanted his earlier “confession” that he acted alone without state knowledge or sponsorship. Just recently, amid the increasing pressure being placed on the Pakistan government by the US, a gag order was issued against Khan barring him from making public statements about the nuclear network.
The US itself has gagged former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds from speaking out to tell her story. As a contract employee of the FBI responsible for translating sensitive documents, Edmonds not only called the Bush administration claim that there were no warnings of an impending attack on 9/11 an outrageous lie, but has also stated that she was approached by a mole working within the FBI to become part of a ring involved in the international nuclear black market.
During the 1980s, the CIA used the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), founded in Pakistan, as a front for its dealings in the Iran-Contra affair, which included money laundering, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking. It’s possible, even likely, that the bank was also used in conjunction with the CIA’s support for the mujahedeen during the same period. The BCCI was essentially a front bank for international criminal and terrorist organizations and its activities included, according to a Senate investigation, the sale of nuclear technologies.
A number of characters involved in the Iran-Contra scandal have been members of the Bush administration. Bush himself had an oil company, Arbusto Energy, in which he was partnered with James Bath, who incidentally also managed investments for an elder brother of Osama bin Laden, Salem, and Salem’s friend Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, the latter of whom was a major stakeholder in BCCI.
It has also been alleged that bin Mahfouz helped finance al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s organization which grew out of the effort to aid the mujahedeen. Bin Mahfouz denies that he has ever supported terrorism, but acknowledges that Salem asked him to contribute $270,000 to his younger brother’s cause. But this, he points out, was in line with US policy.
Indeed, the CIA’s $3 billion financing of the mujahedeen was matched by the government Saudi Arabia, in addition to financing from private Saudi individuals such as Mahfouz.
The allegation that the ISI was behind the July 7 embassy bombing is certainly plausible, but it is particularly noteworthy in this incident because the US government has actually publicized the alleged connection, in stark contrast to its official support for Pakistan under Musharraf as a key “ally” in the “war on terrorism”, despite the fact that Pakistan was the Taliban’s largest benefactor prior to 9/11, and despite strong indications that support for militants and terrorists continued, if not in official form from the government itself, at least from within elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence communities.
This represents a key shift in US policy towards Pakistan. The full extent to which there has been a policy shift towards the new government, and the consequences of that shift, remain to be seen. But that the intention is to pressure the democratically elected government to fall in line and take marching orders from Washington, as Musharraf was willing to do despite overwhelming disapproval amongst the Pakistani public.