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India, the ISI and the Kabul Bomb

September 29, 2011

With Shashi Tharoor and Michael Fullilove of the Lowy Institute

Shashi Tharoor was the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information between 2001 and 2007 and now sits in the Lok Sabha (the lower house in the Indian Parliament) as a Congress Party representative for a Kerala seat. I’d met him at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival several years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch. It was a pleasure to welcome him to Sydney as a guest of the Indian Consul-General Amit Dasgupta and talk to him about Indian politics and the great challenge of Pakistan while showing him Sydney Harbour

Shashi reminded that the notorious ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) in Pakistan was revved-up at the bidding of the United States. It is the body that oversighted Osama Bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad and is believed by Indians to be responsible for terrorist strikes against them and for the recent terrorist strike against the US embassy in Kabul. It was a creature of the Zia-al-Haq period in Pakistan (1978 – 88) but in its modern manifestation as a covert action body it owes everything to American guidance. This took place as the US armed the Mujahedin to wage war on the Soviets in Afghanistan. Shashi reminded me of this sobering historical tidbit, a period captured in the 2007 movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Sadly, our American cousins have not always thought strategically, especially when ultranationalist and neo-conservative drumbeats echo in the Washington marshlands.

  1. Lynda Newnam permalink
    September 29, 2011 1:41 pm

    re: US foreign policy – recommend Charlie Waterstreet’s recent piece “Careful what you wish for”
    with a not to be missed illustration by Michael Mucci.

    re: “our American cousins have not always thought strategically” – clumsy rather than strategic? but I thought Charlie Wilson’s War captured the ‘rock and a hard place’ situation that America was in. How do you achieve the right strategy in a sprawling democracy like the US. And Hanks (maybe not applicable to Wilson) did convey the sense that he understood that regardless of his ‘achievement’ in the short term, his actions judged over a longer term would be viewed as problematic. I thought the performance was a gem.

  2. John Little permalink
    September 29, 2011 2:05 pm

    A good point made in Wed’s Australian by commentator Sadanand Dhume is that Pakistan with an economy the size of puny Romania’s is seen by their own elites as the equivalent of a bank too big to fail. Judging by Admiral Mike Mullen’s comments earlier this week the US may be about to see sense and call their bluff, especially regarding the antics of the ISI.

  3. Patrick permalink
    September 29, 2011 3:33 pm

    ISI certainly interfere with Bangladeshi politics.

  4. peter tuck permalink
    September 29, 2011 9:28 pm

    Amazing that a US general (Mullens) can sound off in such a way about a supposedly crucial US ally. Can you see the head of the ADF making such a politically charged statement in Australia? Just goes to show how the US military dominates Washington. Of course we know all this from MacArthur days. Presumably Mullens had cleared his (repeated) views with the Obama administration prior

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