ISI and the Taliban: Distinction without a difference?

Whether the folks who killed Benazir Bhutto were formally working for the Taliban, al Qaeda, or the Pakistani intelligence service doesn’t much matter. She’s dead, the Islamists killed her, and Musharraf was at best a passive collaborator in her death.

The Musharraf crowd is desperate to convince the world that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination &#8212 on the very day Bhutto planned to deliver to visiting Americans a detailed dossier charging Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI) with plotting to rig the forthcoming elections &#8212 was the work of the Taliban or its al Qaeda allies rather than the work of ISI (of which Bhutto was a hereditary enemy) or the Pakistani military.

But to a substantial extent the Taliban was the creature of the ISI. It was the ISI that insisted that American aid to the Afghani insurgents go to the most Islamist factions among them, and ISI continued to support the Taliban after it had taken over Afghanistan and give al-Qaeda a safe haven from which to plot the 9-11 attacks. (More here.) And both ISI and the Army still have strong Islamist factions.

Of course there are complexities. ISI doesn’t act as a unitary force; Musharraf is partly the captive of the Islamists, partly their willing collaborator, partly struggling with them for the upper hand. But the notion that Musharraf is “our SOB” is only half right. He and his playmates aren’t reliably “ours” in the struggle with the terrorists. And the fact that Pakistan (thanks to Musharraf and his buddies) is now a nuclear state shouldn’t mean that whoever currently runs it has carte blanche from the U.S.

Footnote And the U.S. State Department is dutifully blaming the victim to shore up its falling puppet regime, which continues to give refuge to A.Q. Khan, the man who did more to put American lives at risk of foreign attack than anyone since Sakharov helped Stalin get the H-bomb. Given how thoroughly the seasoned professionals have f*cked this one up, “rolling the dice” on someone not the captive of their Cold-War-era thinking seems pretty attractive to me.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: