obl isi faq

There’s a good debate in Jamie Kenny’s comments about the political upshot of bin Laden’s death in Pakistan. For what it’s worth, I’m with Dan Hardie on this – it’s a very important political fact that the intelligence hierarchy a) couldn’t or wouldn’t catch bin Laden and b) couldn’t or wouldn’t protect him any longer. The ISI needs to be useful to the Americans and also to the jihadis to maintain its private foreign policy and its special role in Pakistani politics.

In the short term, it’s still in a position to make trouble – NATO is still using the roads to Afghanistan, after all – but this ability to cause trouble is now significantly constrained. When bin Laden turns out to have been living two miles from the Abbottabad Golf Club all these years, playing the supply-route card is very close indeed to committing to his side and burning the bridges. It may not be as dramatic as the Falklands War was for the Argentine military as a political actor. The outrage of actual Americans staging an air-mobile assault in urban Pakistan buffers this a bit. But they can’t count on nationalist outrage as a source of support – they didn’t, after all, prevent the raid, whether by shooting up the helicopters or by getting rid of bin Laden themselves.

The defining issue now is whether Pakistan’s other institutions can assert more power faster than the Americans (and everyone else) can cut-and-run. The end of US support after 1992, after all, tended to strengthen the ISI as a force in Pakistani politics. If the ISI director Ahmed Shuja Pasha is indeed sacked, this will be quite an ambiguous move, as General Kayani brought him in from the armoured corps in order to keep an eye on the organisation. But this is only a short-term coping strategy – or in other words, tactics rather than strategy.

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