Visible States: Invisible Realities | The Citizen

January 2014

States are, by their nature, structures that require, in some aspects, deceitful facades, secretive actions and deceptive words. Intelligence agencies, psychological warfare operations and statements made by Ministries of Foreign Affairs for the benefit of overseas countries accurately express these devious attributes of States.

For Pakistan, President Obama’s statement of January 17, 2014 to the effect that : “We will not monitor the communications of Heads of State and Government of our close friends and allies” has to be taken with a large pinch of American salt and Pakistani pepper.

The two countries are certainly close, but equally certainly, uneasy in their intense proximity. They are also friendly. But more than most other friendly relationships, this one is marked by a parallel stream of mutual distrust for virtually all the past 66 years.

Continuing surveillance of telephones and communications of the President, Prime Minister, other relevant Government functionaries including the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan is only one of the covert activities likely to be sustained by the USA. The crudest give-away of America’s covert activities came, coincidentally only two days before President Obama’s new policy speech. On January 14, 2014, the US Congress approved a Bill to fund the United States Government with a conventional, unrelated yet mandatory provision that $33 million from the funds marked for aid to Pakistan will only be released “…if Dr. Shakil Afridi is released from prison and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the United States in locating Osama bin Laden”.

Dr. Shakil Afridi was secretly commissioned by US operatives in Pakistan to conduct a door-to-door health survey for obtaining DNA samples in the Abbottabad area where Osama bin Laden was suspected to be hiding, prior to the raid that killed him. Such brazen, offensive conditions aside, the earlier episode involving Raymond Davis, the CIA operative who gunned down two Pakistani youth-informers was only the most recently publicised example of America’s covert operations.

Perhaps the US can take cold comfort in the fact that its secret operations, whether of surveillance by remote means or through actions on the ground, are in good – or rather bad – company. Reliable sources reveal that Pakistan in general, and two of its Provinces in particular i.e. Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and Balochistan, are the murky playgrounds for intelligence agencies from other foreign countries. Leading the list is obviously RAW from India, and similar organizations from Afghanistan, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UK and Israel. And a few more are also likely ! Though it is flattering to receive so much attention because of pivotal location and conditions, this is a perverse compliment Pakistan could well do without.

Assuming or suspecting the presence of foreign intelligence agencies is not to look for scapegoats and phantoms to excuse the failure of Pakistan to detect and prevent plans and actions detrimental to a country’s interests. Even States with levels of governance and efficiency far higher than those of Pakistan are sometimes, are not often unable to pre-empt the work of foreign intelligence agencies in their own territories. Nor is this to indulge in paranoia and to look for imaginary enemies under every bush. It is simply to acknowledge that, while even friendly States conduct covert activities on each other’s territories, in the case of Pakistan where terrorism, violence, and extremism have exploded almost exponentially post-9/11, the role of intelligence agencies from other countries has also grown substantially in the past 12 years. Even the often unfairly maligned ISI, which otherwise performs with high efficiency in its mandated functions has apparently been unable to adequately stem the quiet alien invasion.

Driven by immediate physical, regional interests and threat perceptions as also being part of larger geo-strategic and geo-political factors shaped by ideology and oil, hegemonic aspirations by tit-for-tat tactics, by unrealized ignorance and accumulated misperceptions, intelligence agencies from overseas countries continue to be parts of both the causes and the consequences of the mayhem that disfigures parts of Pakistan on an almost daily basis.

Frequently using the agent provocateur method by which persons who are already part of extremist dissident groups, aggressive religious sectarian units or terrorist outfits are manipulated and facilitated by infiltrators to perpetrate atrocities and other sensationalist actions, foreign intelligence agencies are able to carry out their clandestine projects without drawing explicit attention to their own identities. Non-violent versions of agents provocateur are sometimes termed as “assets” who comprise persons with repute and influence in media, academia, civil society, some even in the military and the Government. In turn, in either of the categories, the persons helping the foreign intelligence agencies to promote hidden agendas may be a person who consciously receives a benefit for the service rendered, or fulfils a mission sublimely convinced of the rightness of the cause served, whether this be by expressing an opinion, or by mobilising others towards a particular goal, or by writing and advocacy of a viewpoint.

Incidents such as the explosions at the Tableeghi Markaz in Peshawar on 16th January 2014 or the derailment of the Karachi-bound Khushal Khan Khattak Express in Rajanpur District on 17th January 2014, have become almost daily examples of terrorism and tragedy with intriguing questions about the identities of their actual sponsors. While normally non-violent religious parties often blame “foreign agents” for attacks on mosques and sects, even some fervent Baloch nationalists known to this writer say they are convinced that India’s intelligence agency is making a major investment in Balochistan.

Whether on a bilateral basis between Pakistan and India, or on a regional or global basis, Governments officially, publicly attempt to improve levels of trust and friendship. State systems concerned with the informal and secret facets of international relations require far greater attention and accountability than they presently do even in an era of unprecedented democracy and transparency.

As published on 30th January 2014 in the new Indian e-journal: The Citizen. Editor : Seema Mustafa.