Islamabad’s Anamorphic Intelligence Agency: The Pakistan ISI

Adam Fitzgerald
26 min readJul 10, 2020

“In the 1980s the ISI was instrumental in supporting seven Sunni Muslim mujahideen groups in their jihad against the Soviets and was the principal conduit of covert U.S and Saudi funding. It subsequently played a pivotal role in the emergence of the Taliban.” (Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan)

The 1947–48 Pakistan-India war, made it’s stage in the Jammu and Kashmir native state, right between two newly independent nations. Both Pakistan and India had broke off from British colonial rule. Bengal and Punjab had become the main areas of the partition, which was based on non-muslim and Muslim majorities. The major influence of the partition came from the Indian Independence Act 1947, which was outlined under the Parliament of the United Kingdom which partitioned British India into the two new independent entities of India and Pakistan.

However the newly minted government officials argued over Jammu and Kashmir, thus the conflict. The Maharaja “High King” of Jammu and Kashmir was Hari Singh, who decided not to join either independent state. However, Jammu and Kashmir was a Muslim majority state. Pashtun Tribesman from Pakistan then invaded Kashmir and defeated Hari Singh’s forces. Leading Singh to plead towards India to intervene on his behalf. Pakistan troops tried to intervene, but British commanders thwarted the forces by adhering to the Indian National Conference, which won the rights.

Pakistan saw the conflict as a learning curve, wanting to understand the weaknesses which was evident in carrying out operations within the Indian front-lines. The early influence of Muslim seceding from Indian and British rule, was from the Muslim population, led by pragmatist and former barrister, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah decided that there should be an independent state for the Muslims. Where political and theocratic affairs would be governed by its own hands. Jinnah became the first Governor-General of Pakistan after it gained its independence. Jinnah’s rise to prominence, gave the Pakistan intelligentsia, along with the Pakistan Army further ideas on how to capitulate future enemies weaknesses.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Robert Bill Cawthome, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army Corps of Signals, which was a major intelligence, science and technology command of the Pakistan Army, began holding closed doors meetings with Syed Shahid Hamid, a two star general of the Pakistan Army and others. Cawthorne had previously been a major general in the British-Indian Army before moving to Pakistan. Cawthrone and Hamid both agreed that intelligence gathering would be of utmost importance in their future conflicts with India, which had a formidable army. Cawthrone selected Colonel Shahid Hamid to set up the agency. The name of the agency, Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), in which would be defined with separate entities conducting different operations.

  • Internal Wing — responsible for domestic intelligence, domestic counter-intelligence, counter-espionage, and counter-terrorism.
  • External Wing — responsible for external intelligence, external counter-intelligence, and espionage.
  • Foreign Relations Wing — responsible for diplomatic intelligence and foreign relations intelligence.

Leadership within the ISI would be as follows. Director-General, which is reserved for only a 3 star general of the Pakistan Army. With 3 Deputy Director Generals who report only to the Director-General. Deputy Director-Generals are reserved only for 2 star officers. The ISI would employ civilian officers from various agencies and military staffs, such as the Federal Investigation Agency, Federal Board of Revenue, Pakistan Customs and judicial and law enforcement of Pakistan. All working in conjuncture as a singular unit. A large intelligence apparatus which combines the Military, Judaical and Law Enforcement of Pakistan. Where over time, the ISI, would become exceptionally large, expansive in all aspects of human and signals intelligence.

Robert Bill Cawthome

The building which houses the ISI is located in Aabpara in the city of Islamabad. The street, Service Road Easy G-7, a rather “ordinary” structure which has one sole armed guard at the entrance. Aabpara is designated for government-civil servants living amongst with their families. The rich theocratic history which belongs in Islamabad, can be said for the majority of Pakistan. Where 96% of its population adhere to Sunni Islam, where approximately 90% belong to the Hanafi school of law. The Hanafi principles are strict adherence to the Quran and the six books of the Hadiths, more importantly the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.

Pakistan has the second largest Islamic population in the world, outside of Indonesia. Islam is also the state religion here. There are a small minority of Shia Muslims that also live here, but hold no authoritative position in government for which it is alleged by the Shia community that since Pakistan’s independence, government and military officials would only hire Sunni Muslims for open positions. Most, if not all, of the ISI are Sunni Muslims.

By 1950, Cawthorne would become it’s second Director-General, and hold this position til 1959. Making Cawthorne, the longest serving Director-General in the history of the ISI to the present day. Syed Mohammad Ahsan, would serve as it’s main recruiter, while holding serve as the Pakistan Naval Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence. Ahsan, was so influential in the military public scene, that Mohammad Ali Jinnah would be the person who began Ahsan’s ascension into the Navy then over to the ISI. Cawthorne saw just how valuable Ahsan’s position at the Naval Intelligence was, and sent a priority report that compiled detail discussions with personnel at the Pakistan Navy and Army, detailing the principals of the ISI.

In hopes of courting many into the field of covert Intelligence. Over the next couple of years, the ISI would grow, exponentially. Within the end of Cawthrone’s tenure as Director-General, he saw the rise and brilliance of the ISI’s true potential. So did other intelligence agencies as well. It is said, no one truly knows the exact number of operatives that the ISI has employed, but the number is estimated at over 10,000 field agents today.

The ISI would construct many other departments within its agency.

Covert Action Division — Responsible for paramilitary and covert operations as well as special activities. Its roles are akin to Special Activities Division (SAD) of CIA and a handful of officers are trained by the CIA’s SAD and active since the 1960s.

Joint Intelligence X (JIX) — Coordinates all the other departments in the ISI. Intelligence and information gathered from the other departments are sent to JIX which prepares and processes the information and from which prepares reports which are presented.

Joint Intelligence Bureau — Responsible for gathering anti-state intelligence and fake drugs, fake currency and TTP.

Joint Signals Intelligence Bureau — Operates intelligence collections along the India-Pakistan border.

Joint Intelligence Technical — Deals with development of science and technology to advance the Pakistan intelligence gathering. The directorate is charged to take steps against the electronic warfare attacks in Pakistan.

Political Internal Division — Monitored the financial funding of the right-wing political science sphere against the left-wing political science circles.

Over the next 20 years the ISI began to become noticed by the Western intelligence communities of the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, and of course, Britain. Even it’s President in 1978, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, acknowledged the importance of the ISI and its vast influence over intelligence gathering could be enormously valuable to his administration. By this period, Muhammad Riaz Khan a former adjutant-general of the Army, had become the agency’s 6th General-Director. Khan was well liked, a resoundingly high praise of Khan would come from Brigadier Syed Mujtaba Tirmazi, who once said of Khan.

“Khan is religious minded, scrupulously honest, thoroughly professional and a committed soldier… a man of unimpeachable honesty and integrity.”

Muhammad Zia ul-Haq

Muhammad Zia ul-Haq was also well regarded as a formidable military mind. Previously serving as Chief of Army Staff for 12 years, 1976–1988. ul-Haq was considered a foreign policy visionary, knowing full well that emboldening relations with super-powers such as the United States and China, while also emphasizing Pakistan’s Islamic role in the world would benefit Pakistan in the future. However, relations with India would continue to deteriorate. Khan’s tenure was short as Director-General, however, it was during the most critical period in Pakistan’s history.

By 1978–79, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan was unjustly executed by a judicial court, U.S President, Jimmy Carter, had just implemented sanctions against Pakistan’s nuclear program, The U.S Embassy in Islamabad was raided and burned with 2 American deaths and the Communist bloc of the Soviet Union had just committed a coup on Afghanistan. The latter would become the most important issue regarding the ISI, it would also make the agency completely synonymous with the Islamist terrorist uprising in the years to come.

In the fall of 1979, Khan would suffer a fatal heart attack. ul-Haq had begun conscripting Pakistan Army to lend their services in training volunteers from Jalalabad, Islamabad to engage the Soviets in the Afghan capitol, Kabul. , Akhtar Abdur Rahman would succeed Khan, as the Director-General. A post he would hold for 8 years, 1979–1987. Unlike Khan, Rahman knew the ISI couldn’t exist alone, not without foreign assistance.

By 1980, the Soviets deployed the 40th Army in Kabul, fearing Pakistan would be next ul-Haq contacted Rahman, “what can we do to repel an invasion?” The Pakistan Army’s top generals along with Rahman knew, that with the fall of Kabul to communism, what is to stop Pakistan to become the next to come under the secular invasion, and slaughter it’s Muslim population, as they did under Afghanistan’s former Presidents Mohammed Daoud Khan and Nur Muhammad Taraki, both Socialists who favored communist ideals.

With Pakistan in the middle of am “Islamist awakening” much like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt had in previous years, the ISI under Rahman started military training and funding Pakistan’s Islamists. They would be famously called “mujaheddin”. With the emergence of notable warlords already sending their conscripts to fight, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s “Hizib-i-Islami” and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s “Ittahed-I-Islami” and the numerous others sending tens of thousands into the mountainous regions of Khowst, Wardak, Kandahar and Helmand.

The United States, under Carter, began taking a vested interest in keeping the Soviets at bay, fearing they could topple all of Afghanistan and advance their power which could cause a future battle for the region as well as regulating the oil markets of Arab countries, which his White House Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski cautioned against. Some within the White House advised against sending U.S military, fearing a revitalization of another “cold war”.

Instead, Carter turned to the CIA, Stansfield Turner was it’s lead Director, he was also previously the Supreme Allied Commander NATO Southern Europe between 1975–1977. Turner was a strategist at heart, and knew that by embarking on a straight forward military aggression against the Soviets it would literally embark on World War 3, with nuclear devices at the ready. Instead Turner along with his CIA officials such as Robert Gates would devise a covert operation which would lend support to the Mujaheddin fighters in Afghanistan. Robert Gates would later relate the following:

“The Carter administration turned to CIA … to counter Soviet and Cuban aggression in the Third World, particularly beginning in mid-1979. We sent several covert action options relating to Afghanistan to the Special Coordination Committee (SCC).”

The plan was to have the United States authorize the CIA to send financing, military training and military aid to bases in Pakistan under the full cooperation of Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, and its ISI Director-General, Akhtar Abdur Rahman. The plan was to also involved British MI6, who would heavily fund Hekmatyar’s afghan fighters from “Hizib-i-Islami”, since they had the largest contingent of fighters. The U.S Department of Defense would become involved but had reservations in the operation. Leading one of it;s primary representatives, Walter B. Slocombe, to become worried about entering a quagmire. The White House asked to elaborate further in his statement regarding the Soviets and keeping the Afghan insurgency going, ‘sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire?’ Slocombe was quoted as saying.

“Well, the whole idea was that if the Soviets decided to strike at this tar baby Afghanistan we had every interest in making sure that they got stuck.”

Stuck indeed. Carter took offense at the Soviets aggression and gave full authority to the CIA to go forward with the plan, code-named, “Operation Cyclone”. The United States along with the CIA had to keep the operation as covert as possible. Sending military aid and funding they third parties. By 1981, the operation took an even aggressive turn as Ronald Reagan had become the new U.S President. He would expand his own plan, called the Reagan Doctrine which was to cause setbacks to the Soviet communist expansion into pro-communist governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, into Afghanistan under Operation Cyclone.

William Casey, a Reagan favorite, was now the new CIA Director and had begun a favorable relationship with Rahman, the Pakistan ISI Director-General. Rahman also warmed to Charlie Wilson, a Republican Senator from Texas who led the primary charge of leading Congress to support the CIA in Operation Cyclone, which earned him the moniker used during the Afghan conflict, “Charlie Wilson’s War”.

Charlie Wilson

Under ul-Haq, the ISI had also began to expand into a much more powerful entity. The agency was now involved in more technological methods which included.

Human Intelligence
Diplomatic Missions
Collaborations with other agencies
Third County Technique

Reagan had also began to take notice of the ISI and trusted ul-Haq to begin a revamped U.S-Pakistan foreign policy relationship. CIA assets and operatives began sending military aid and funding to Peshawar, where Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, held regional dominance over the tribes along with Jalaluddin Haqqani, founding leader of the Haqqani Network. Both men had influence in the city, and began entertaining the idea of allowing Arab fighters to enter the conflict, which wasn't supported by the native Afghan warlords.

However, with the arrival of Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a renown Muslim imam who arrived in Peshawar under the invitation of Sayyaf, the war would soon take a new direction, not before seen. The ideological tenets of “defensive jihad” would soon make its way into the minds of young Muslims in the madrassas of Islamabad. Replacing the nationalist Afghan fervor, as the older statesmen began dying off. The ISI saw this as an advantage, and some within the agency were also followers of the Azzam ideology.

In the first 6 years of the Cyclone Operation (1980–1986) the CIA and State Department sent a total of 3.6 billion in aid toward the mujaheddin. By 1982, ul-Haq began holding meetings with the Deputy-Generals and Rahman (Director-General) of the ISI, about the future of the conflict in Afghanistan. General Khalid Mahmud Arif, a 4 star general of the Pakistan Army and close colleague of ul-Haq, the mujaheddin they were training were being met with overwhelming force from the Soviets, especially on the ground where they could not repel their tanks, especially the quick moving T55’s.

Rahman ordered a new strategy that would turn the tide of the war, strike them where they are weakest. From the mountains. It was this turn of events, led by Reagan’s military deal with Pakistan, to send the Mujahideen stinger missiles, which would give the Afghan and Arab fighters a new defense, as well as an offensive volley, against the Soviets.

The construction methods were led by a young Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, from the Bin Laden family of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Who would also be met by Abdullah Azzam and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, in construction the most important building which gave rise in the Arabs entering the conflict. The Maktab al-Khidamat (Afghan Services Bureau) in Peshawar. Azzam would be named “emir”, leader, of the bureau with Mamduh Mahmud Salim acting as deputy leader “munir”. It would compromise of two committees.

Bureau Committee — Jamaat al-Makab
Consultative Committee — Majis al-Shura

The bureau would be subsidized anywhere between $200,000-$300,000 dollars annually thru-ought the decade. An extension office would be set up over 11,000 miles away in Brooklyn ,New York. Called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, just doors away from the Al Farouq Mosque, which would later have future ramifications against the United States and being involved in the 1993 WTC Bombing. The Afghan Services Bureau meanwhile was not a primary recipient of CIA funding, however it can be said that it very well could have been a trickle down effect which went into the hands of people involved with the organization at some point. Bin Laden however was never a beneficiary if CIA funding, for he had his own source of finances which came from his father’s construction firm, Saudi BinLaden Group, for which he is an heir.

With the course of the war at it’s peak, CIA Director, William Casey, visited the Afghan-Pakistan border, near Peshawar to meet with members of the ISI. Casey saw that the Mujaheddin were thwarting the Soviets, aided by the “martyrdom” Arab’s willing to die in the open battlefield for the cause. According to author, Steve Coll:

“Casey startled his Pakistani hosts by proposing that they take the Afghan war into enemy territory — into the Soviet Union itself. Casey wanted to ship subversive propaganda through Afghanistan to the Soviet Union’s predominantly Muslim southern republics. The Pakistanis agreed, and the CIA soon supplied thousands of Korans, as well as books on Soviet atrocities in Uzbekistan and tracts on historical heroes of Uzbek nationalism, according to Pakistani and Western officials.”

Casey even began secretly flying in Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, into visits with CIA officials in Langley, Virginia. Meanwhile Assistant Secretary of Defense, Richard Armitage had begun meetings with Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was a mentor to Hekmatyar. The mission for these highly valuable meetings, to begin a stinger missile program to aid the Mujaheddin fighters, as well as cash payments to high profile warlords to keep the conflict going, payments from the CIA. Reagan would even invite Mujahideen leaders into the White House for talks about the conflict in 1985.

President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujhid

The battle for Kabul from the skies were beginning to reverse course against the Soviets. The Mujaheddin use of the stinger missile have become highly effective. Along with sabotage and guerrilla tactics that the Soviets were unprepared for along the elevated ground, along the Panjshir valley and Kandahar. Where notable warlords such as Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Jamiaat-e-Islami, and close friend of Sayyaf, began making headway. The Soviets were suffering grave losses with the strikes from the mountains and valleys, rumors began of a withdrawal. It couldn’t come soon enough for the Pashtuns, Afghans and Arab farmers, older women and children suffering from lack of basic supplies such as food, medicines.

By late 1987, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry had long contacted the Soviet affairs division. The war was nearing its breaking point, and the Soviet government led by Mikhail Gorbachev, General-Secretary of the Soviet Union, began dissuading with U.S President Reagan, about a full withdrawal from Afghanistan. In a recorded discussion taken on December 10th 1987, Gorbachev, elaborated about the goal of the military evicting from Afghanistan:

“Yesterday I touched on the Afghan issue. I will say frankly: I have noticed from your side a certain restraint and unwillingness to get involved in discussing the ideas I expressed about solving the Afghan problem. Therefore I would like to stress that we are ready to talk seriously with you on this topic; moreover, to agree on several principal aspects.

If you want, then we will not make this agreement public. The Soviet Union would name a specific date for the withdrawal of its troops, and the United States would obligate itself to halt aid to known Afghan forces. That is, we would act synchronously. On such-and-such a day we would begin the withdrawal and on the same day you would cease aid to the forces in the opposition. When we name a day then it would simultaneously signify that from that date our forces would not participate in combat operations except in cases of self-defense. I again stress that we don’t want Afghanistan to be pro-Soviet or pro-American. We think that it should be a neutral country.”

Zia ul-Haq led by the ISI intelligence center, had been highly impressed with the CIA, and vice versa. The formidable agencies would continue working together in the future, but for now the agency began becoming aware of how “useful” the Islamists had become. The future of intelligence now saw a new enemy, one they tried to control, Mujaheddin fighters now began talking about continuing the jihad, against secular Arab governments. Something ul-Haq feared. By 1988 another turn for the worse.

On August 17,1988…Director-General ISI, Akhtar Abdur Rahman, Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq and Arnold Lewis, U.S-Pakistan Ambassador were on their way to witness a US M1 Abrams tank demonstration in Bahawalpur, a city located in the Punjab Province aboard the Presidential C-130 Hercules aircraft holding 31 people total. From the eyewitnesses on the ground, the plane in the air was flying erratically and then nosedived and exploded on impact, killing all 31 passengers on board. A massive loss for the Pakistan government. For which it wouldn’t recover in time to witness the greatest achievement the ISI had produced, forcing the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

A Pakistan government inquiry was held regarding the plane crash, in which they concluded ‘the most probable cause of the crash was a criminal act of sabotage perpetrated in the aircraft’. Speculation aroused from the Israeli Mossad, India’s intelligence division Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and British MI6. For which none were legitimately held accountable. Immediately after the announcement of ul-Haq’a death, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, would be named the successor. Hamid Gul, a 3 star General, became the new ISI Director-General. Gul was not as confidant in the Mujaheddin abilities to take back certain provinces and cities from communist backed government of Afghanistan.

On February 15,1989, the Soviets began their withdrawal from the country. With Afghanistan government, led by Mohammad Najibullah, the country was trying to repair what was lost in the conflict. However the devastation was just beginning to rear an uglier head, the region was now at a full scale civil war to take control over what was left. Numerous factions began warring with one another, and soon a new religious sect began appearing. The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), a Marxist-Leninist Party, was trying to make amends to the Muslim population. It would not become a viable relationship.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Saudi Arabia, Iran, along with the Pakistan ISI, had begun funding the Islamist forces in hopes of overthrowing the PDPA for good. According to Human Rights Watch:

“Iran assisted the Shia Hazara Hezb-i Wahdat forces of Abdul Ali Mazari, as Iran attempted to maximize Wahdat’s military power and influence.”

Gul, of Pashtun origin, began supporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizib-i-Islami, with weapons to thwart the socialist party of the PDPA. Pakistan was openly supporting for Afghanistan to be ruled by a theocracy. The disengagement of both the Soviet Union and the United States from Afghanistan allowed Pakistan to almost totally replace interference from the North with interference from the South in the 1990’s. Numerous clans would become involved in the civil war, including:

Jowzjani militia (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) headed by Abdul Rashid Dostum

Hizib-i-Islami headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Jamiat-e Islami headed by Ahmad Shah Massoud

Ittehad-e Islami (Islamic Dawah Organization of Afghanistan) headed by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf

Haqqani Network headed by Jalaluddin Haqaani

The groups were heavily supported by Hamid Gul of the ISI, and began an affront against the Afghan socialist government which held Jalalabad. Approximately 10,000 men were invested in the battle, which saw the complete defeat of Hekmatyar’s and Sayyaf’s men. A devastating loss, that even then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto couldn’t help but remark at the total ineptness of the Mujaheddin. An estimated 12,000–15,000 civilians were killed, while 10,000 had fled the fighting. The conflict proved one thing, that the Afghan Army can win without Soviet military assistance.

Hamid Gul

Aside from the bullets and bombs, Pakistan had elections upcoming in 1990. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a socio-democratic whose founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and former Pakistan Prime Minister (1973–77) ran against the newly formed, ultra-orthodox conglomerate, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). The IJI founder, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, was running against the favorite left leaning PPP. Nawaz Sharif one of the primary leaders of the group, had become a somewhat of a more intriguing figure. Sharif, a successful industrialist, whose estimated net worth was once estimated at 1.6 million rupees, was once appointed by Ziad ul-Haq as the minister of finance. Sharif was backed by covert funding from the ISI to help form the IJI, which constituted seven other right-wing conservative and religious parties, united with encouragement from Hamid Gul. The ISI saw fit to democratically overthrow the socialist PPP.

The race was exhaustive, votes tallied, miscounted, and at times not counted at all. Led to a razor thin victory for the favorited PPP. Yet the IJI received a strong mandate to govern, winning 105 seats versus forty-five seats for the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDA), of which the PPP was the main component in the National Assembly. That wasn’t the only discouraging moment for the ISI. Benazir Bhutto, had become Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, the Bhutto family has had a long successful history in Pakistan politics, going back to 1967, where they have held continuous power with the PPP to the current day.

Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the 9th Prime Minister of Pakistan (1973–77) while also being its 4th President (1971–73). The religious faction within the ISI did not take comfort in knowing a woman, as well as being an ardent socialist, was in such a high position of power. Sharif saw Bhutto as an arch rival in politics, and he was backed by the ISI.

Benazir Bhutto

Most of the population in Pakistan resides in the Punjab province, for which Sharif, had total influence. It was also home to its more orthodox believers of the Hanafi school of thought, where a high percentage of the ISI were also adhering it. Bhutto went on a number of foreign trips, enhancing her image as the first female Prime Minister in the Islamic world. Bhutto’s global portfolio began to grow, realizing her potential, she began to ultimately challenge her antagonists.

However as the Afghanistan civil war began to engage in it’s peak between the Mujaheddin and socialist government adherents in the city of Kabul, Bhutto declined to challenge the ISI’s involvement in supporting of the Mujahid factions of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Bhutto knew it wouldn’t turn out favorable. The ISI’s relationship with Masoud and Hekmatyar was at the heart of the post-Soviet Pakistani interference in Afghanistan and a major cause of the imposed civil war.

The relationship between the CIA and ISI had begun to produce for both sides. The CIA much like the ISI had leaned to financially support the Mujahideen over time, using them to commit black operations inside Afghanistan and even into the Balkans to fragment the pieces of communist backed groups left over from the Afghan War. The continued aggression against Bhutto did not end, and in 1993, she became a target for Muslim Deobandi hardliners. After the bombing of the WTC in February, Ramzi Yousef fled back to Pakistan and had met up with a close friend, Abdul Hakim Murad in Islamabad.

The Sipah-e-Sahaba, a Deobandi organization and previously affiliated with the IJI, had given a contract to Yousef in assassinating Bhutto. The group’s leader, Zia-ur Rehman Farooqi, had enough of the Bhutto clan. The plan however, failed to materialize, when a bomb Yousef had constructed blew up in his lap after Pakistan police saw a car in which both Yousef and Murad were driving in were parked by Bhutto’s residence in Karachi. Bhutto went before the media to reply about the incident.

“I want you to know that we have now found out that Mr. Ramzi (Ahmed) Yousef was sent here in Karachi in 1993 to assassinate me,” Bhutto told the Reuters news agency.

“He came here in a car toward this house where we are sitting today,” she was quoted as saying during an interview in the southern Pakistani port city. “But one of the explosives went off accidentally, wounding Ramzi, and he was subsequently taken to a hospital in Karachi.”

With the end of the Soviet conflict, Afghanistan implemented its new President, Burhanuddin Rabbani of the Jamiat-e-Islami. It was Rabbani who was the primary influence behind young students at his school, Hekmatyar and Massoud who would later become embroiled in political, as well as military conflict in Afghanistan during its second civil war. The Pakistan government, as well as the ISI under Hamid Gul, pressured Rabbani, who was living in exile, to back the Mujaheddin in hopes of having the country run by Islamic law (Sharia). Rabbani declined to meet their expectations, for which Massoud also declined. Najib Lafraie, from the Middle East Institute would write a lengthy article which captures the Pakistan Government;s wishes to turn Afghanistan into an extension of Pakistan in hopes of it being a future launching pad against India.

“Pakistan was unhappy with the Rabbani government’s foreign policy as well. Since it had played host to millions of Afghan refugees and had facilitated international support for the resistance, Pakistan expected the new government in Kabul to look at Islamabad as a “big brother.” This was not acceptable to the Rabbani government, which sincerely wanted to have close and friendly relations with Pakistan, but not at the cost of an independent foreign policy.

Especially disturbing to the Pakistani government — and particularly to the ISI — was the new government’s announcement that they wanted to open a new chapter in Afghanistan’s relations with India, despite the Indian government’s good relations with the former Communist regime. Pakistan took offense, even though the Rabbani government voiced strong support for the cause of Kashmiri Muslims. To the credit of the Indian Foreign Office, their diplomacy was mature enough to realize the delicate situation and never raise this issue with their Afghan counterparts.”

By 1993 however, Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former Lieutenant-General of the Pakistan Army who was tasked to lead the ISI by General Abdul Waheed Kakar who declared war on the Islamists in the ISI as well as the jihadis in Kashmir. Many within the Pashtun tribal areas as well as the PPP, were quite receptive of Kakar, leading Mahmood Achakzai, a ranking member of the National Assembly of Pakistan to praise the background regarding the venerable General.

This is not a General from the Sandhurst colonial brand. I welcome an enlightened man from the rigid mountain ranges of Loralai. He has the professional skills for improving the war performance of the Pakistan Army. But more than that, he is intelligent enough to comprehend politics and will promote the democratic process. General Waheed is not a religious extremist.”

The ultra-Islamist group, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, began taking notice of Qazi and Kakar. In 1995 it was General Karkar who would subvert the plot to assassinate both Kakar and Benazir Bhutto when Military Intelligence and the Military Police arrested known actors involved. The ISI continued to make inroads in internal change, but old habits die harder than expected. The culture of Pakistan is one of constant turmoil within the theological and political branches, that span decades. It seemed actual change within the ISI would transform its politics, something high ranking and Islamists in Islamabad would not accept.

Just as the ISI began making incremental changes into it’s politics, the bloodshed in Afghanistan was becoming more pronounced. The Hizib-i-Islami led by Hekmatyar were still supported by the ISI, were warring over Kabul, the capitol. Massoud, was offered the position of Prime Minister when Hekmatyar’s plane, which was carrying him, came under fire. Negotiations were off the table. There was a large ultra-Islamist group, which had large sway of influence back in the madrassas of Islamabad, they were called, the Taliban.

It’s emir, a one eyed imam, of a mysterious background, Mullah Mohammad Omar. The ISI also had a new Director-General, Naseem Rana. Rana would become a pivotal force in regards to the civil war of 1992–96. Rana commanded the ISI in support of the Taliban, playing a pivotal role in providing help to irregular hardline forces supporting the Taliban against the United Front (Northern Alliance). Massoud held fort in the North, where the Taliban began making headway, South of the country. Hekmatyar, stood near the sidelines, watching.

The ISI began openly supporting the Taliban, where under Omar, they began capturing local cities such as Bagram, Panjshir, and Salang. Rana became a focal point for the Taliban, with support from the ISI of course, regarding military strikes against the communist back parties still fighting off the Hekmatyar clans as well as the Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami, Sayyaf’s Ittehad-e Islami, Jamiat-e Islami under Massoud and the Junbish-i Milli from Uzbekistan. Atrocities were reported.

The warring sects belonging to the Hezb-i Wahdat, Ittehad-e Islami, Jamiat-e Islami and Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin continually targeted civilians for attack, while intentionally firing rockets into occupied civilian homes, with Mujahid randomly firing into civilian areas. It is reported that Hekmatyar would walk around in his long dark robes and throw sulfuric acid in the faces of women who dared not wear the Niqab or Burqua out in public. The ISI began also becoming under fire for their support of known terrorists which included Hekmatyar and even to British-Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saaed Sheikh, who would later divulge that he was trained and operated by the ISI in Karachi in the mid 1980’s.

Omar Saaed Sheikh would have a lengthy history which spanned 20 years, Including the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814, the kidnapping of 4 British (3) and American (1) nationals in Delhi and being a financial courier involved with the 9/11 terrorist plot. Where it is reported that Omar Saaed Sheikh, using the alias “Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad”, wired $100,000 dollars to the United Arab Emirates then to lead 9/11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta. CNN would later report.

“Investigators said Atta then distributed the funds to conspirators in Florida in the weeks before the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil that destroyed the World Trade Center, heavily damaged the Pentagon and left thousands dead. In addition, sources have said Atta sent thousands of dollars — believed to be excess funds from the operation — back to Syed in the United Arab Emirates in the days before September 11.”

The source of said funding came from then Director-General of the ISI, Mahmud Ahmed. Continued support for known Islamist terrorist cells would become the obvious “cancer” noted by every global intelligence entity. Wall Street Journal would also later report of the ISI being the source for the funding to Atta.

“US authorities sought General Mahmud Ahmed’s removal after confirming that $100,000 was wired to WTC hijacker Mohamed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the insistence of General Mahmud.”

Ahmed Omar Saaed Sheikh

Omar Saaed Sheikh was also said to have been involved with the murder of Wal Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl. By April 2020, the Sheikh would be found “not guilty” of this crime, it is said that former ISI Ijaz Ahmed who is currently the Federal Interior Minister, was responsible for dismissing the case against him, Critics continue to lambaste the ISI as still having close connections with Islamists, Ijaz Ahmed was a prime example of how former ISI contacts have personal relationships with Jihadis. It is widely reported that Ijaz Ahmed, former ISI Director-General, had connections with Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban. During the course of the 1990’s however, the ISI would take regular trips to Langley, Virginia, where the CIA continued to train ISI soldiers from the Covert Action Division, this practice began when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Is reform within the ISI at all realistic? According to a BBC report in 2011, no. Even with recently captured terrorists such as Ramzi Yousef in 1996, Ramzi bin al-Shibh in 2002, and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in 2002 with help from the Pakistan government, and to come extent the ISI. The agency continues to come under fire for supporting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The BBC would write further.

“In documents leaked in April 2011 on the Wikileaks website, US authorities described the ISI as a “terrorist” organisation on a par with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In the same month the US military’s top officer, Adm Mike Mullen, also accused the ISI of having links with the Taliban.

In June 2010 the ISI was accused of giving funding, training and sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban on a scale much larger than previously thought.

The paper published by the London School of Economics said that Taliban field commanders suggested that ISI intelligence agents even attend Taliban supreme council meetings — and that support for the militants was “official ISI policy”.

The mysterious inner workings of the ISI continue to lend most intelligence agencies “high praise” toward the Pakistani agency. Making claims such as the ISI being “a state within a state”. Today, the ISI is considered one of the premiere and largest intelligence agencies in the world. It employs approximately over 15,000 field agents, employees and contacts. The true number is not known, as the agency continues to be shrouded in secrecy. It is said that no ISI agent has ever been captured behind enemy lines, anywhere in the world.

Unless that is they are dealing directly, with, the enemy.



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.