Listing Haqqani as Foreign Terrorist Organization

Pakistan and the United States are strong intelligence allies against Al Qaeda’s core organization — evident in the capture of numerous terrorist operatives since Washington unleashed its War on Terror shortly after the 9/11 attacks. But the relationship is not without its sore spots. The United States have pressed, and continue to press, Islamabad on a whole range of issues, from cracking down on anti-Indian militant groups to reforming the nonexistent Pakistani tax system.

The main point of contention between the two allies since at least 2008 has been the Pakistani government’s connections with the Haqqani network, the most deadly force in Afghanistan’s eastern mountains and the group that boasts the most operational experience — first as an anti-Soviet force funded by the United States and now as a resistance force against NATO troops.

Regardless of which perspective one looks through, both countries have used the same arguments to put forth their positions on the Haqqani network. From Washington’s point of view, the Pakistani military and its intelligence directorate (the ISI) coddle the Haqqanis in the hopes of using the group as a proxy force in Afghanistan. The ISI-Haqqani connection weighs heavier on the minds of Obama Administration officials these days, as Afghanistan prepares for an era without Western intervention.

The Pakistanis retort the accusation by simply denying that any relationship exists while giving Washington the cold shoulder for even suggesting that there may be a partnership.

The Obama Administration demands that the Pakistani military take action against Haqqani bases in the tribal areas. The Pakistanis respond to that demand in their usual fashion, arguing that the military’s commitments in other parts of the country make it all but impossible to launch more operations against more militant groups.

The back and forth can get quite heated, so much so that former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, stated unequivocally during a United States Senate hearing that the ISI not only remained an active supporter of the Haqqani network but played a key liaison role during the recent attack on the American embassy in Kabul. 

After the tense rhetoric and after a few weeks pass by, American and Pakistani political and military leaders usually meet to discuss their grievances in a civilized fashion. The relationship is patched up to limp another day.

But what happens if the United States decide to throw a wrench into the entire process by debating whether to add the Haqqani network to its list of foreign terrorist organizations? Indeed, this is the question that American and Pakistani officials must be asking themselves today for an increasing number of senators and administration officials are supporting the notion of putting the Pakistani and Afghan-hosted network into the same club as Al Qaeda.

The suggestion is more than due, for the Haqqanis exhibit the same characteristics that the United States State and Treasury Departments consider integral to a successful terrorist organization.

Like Al Qaeda, Haqqani fighters target civilians in populated areas, even as they pursue American and coalition soldiers at checkpoints, military bases and patrols. High value buildings and international forums, especially in the Afghan capital of Kabul, have lately been prime real estate for Sirajuddin Haqqani and his followers — all targets that receive an enormous amount of media attention when hit. The group also works with other militant outfits in Pakistan, blending its operatives into their ranks and coordinating resources with Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban for maximum effectiveness.

There is one fundamental difference, however, between Al Qaeda and the Haqqanis. The former has been the focal point for the American counterterrorism community for the past decade. The latter has been an enigma to American policymakers during that same period. The organization espouses a dangerous fundamentalist ideology yet apparently not fundamentalist enough to receive the same amount of time, resources and attention as Al Qaeda. Only when the security situation in Afghanistan got messy enough did American firepower focus more on Haqqani activities.

Placing the Haqqani Network on the list of foreign terrorist organization will most likely not result in anything consequential for the group. Chances are that Sirajuddin, Badruddin and the rest of the Haqqani brothers do not have much in the way of assets in American banks, nor are they likely to visit the United States, Australia, or Switzerland anytime soon.

But what may change is Pakistan’s attitude toward their current proxies, who have now been branded by the United States government as international terrorists no better than Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Anwar al-Awlaki. The label will most likely fail to completely obstruct the flow of ISI-Haqqani cooperation but it would at least set the pretext for more aggressive American military action (i.e. more drone strikes) along the Afghan-Pakistani border should the Pakistani military prove unable or unwilling too distance themselves from the group.

Senator Warns Pakistan, “All Options” on the Table

A top Republican lawmaker suggested on Sunday that “all options” should be table to defend American forces in Afghanistan from the schemes of Pakistani intelligence. “They’re killing American soldiers,” Lindsey Graham told Fox News Sunday.

The senator from South Carolina, who is a noted interventionist and foreign policy hawk, criticized Pakistan’s spy agency for its continued support of militant Islamists who are allied with the Taliban.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate on Thursday that the Haqqani network, among the most violent of insurgent groups associated with the Taliban, “has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.”

The Haqqani were deemed responsible for staging an attack on the American embassy in Kabul and ISAF headquarters there two weeks ago. At least 36 people died during two days of fighting in the capital.

Graham lamented that the Haqqani operate “with impunity inside of Pakistan” and are assisted “directly and indirectly” by the military’s intelligence agency. He recognized that the imminent withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan compels the Pakistanis to maintain their ties with extremists.

They’re betting the Taliban will come back. The Pakistan military lives like kings within Pakistan. A democracy in Afghanistan is a threat to Pakistani military control in their own mind.

Pakistan regards the modern day mujahideen as a wedge against India, to be deployed whenever New Delhi asserts itself too prominently in Afghanistan where India, in turn, has fostered ties with Hamid Karzai’s civilian government to upset Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” there.

Yet Pakistan staunchly supported the international War on Terror after 9/11. Years of anti-terrorist operations by a majority Punjabi army in predominantly Pashtun territory has pushed the Muslim nation onto the brink of civil war. The army’s offensives in Pakistan’s western tribal areas displaced nearly half a million people.

Before the Afghan war escalated, the battle was confined to the border region but since 2008, it has spread into Pakistan proper with bombings and assassinations taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.

If the United States are preparing for a retreat in 2014, it makes no sense for Pakistan to crack down on insurgents that might prove an asset in the future. Similarly, once the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, America has no clear interest in keeping up its alliance with Pakistan.

According to Graham, “it is now a time of choosing.” The Pakistanis “made a tremendous miscalculation” in supporting terrorist who attacked Americans, he said. “Pakistan is engaging in hostile acts against the United States and our ally Afghanistan. That must cease.”

Mullen: Pakistani Ties with Insurgents Persist

America’s top military officer bluntly admitted on Thursday that the Pakistani intelligence service is supporting Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators that the Haqqani network, which is allied to the Taliban, “has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency.

Mullen’s admission wasn’t so much a revelation of Pakistan’s questionable allegiances but rather telling of the low to which American-Pakistani relations have sunk. Read more “Mullen: Pakistani Ties with Insurgents Persist”

Central Terrorist Leader Killed in Pakistan

The United States and their allies have been on a tear lately against Al Qaeda. First, it was the heroic Navy SEAL’s operation in the heart of Pakistan that netted Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after a thirteen year manhunt. A month later, the terrorist organization’s charismatic and disguised prone East African commander, Fazul Mohammed, was shot and killed by Somali soldiers at a government checkpoint in Mogadishu. And now, Al Qaeda’s deputy commander in Pakistan, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been found and killed by an American drone attack in North Waziristan.

The last few months have not been kind to the world’s most feared terror group. The deaths of three key operational Al Qaeda individuals are a success that not only holds a tremendous symbolic value to everyone who has been victimized by the organization’s violence; they are also a tactical accomplishment that provides the United States counterterrorism community with a unique opportunity to pound Al Qaeda’s core leadership into the ground.

Defense secretary Leon Panetta may have been overly optimistic to conclude earlier this year that the terrorist group is close to strategic defeat — Ayman al-Zawahiri, after all, is still issuing tapes to its affiliates. But the killing of Abdul Rahman last week does give the secretary’s remarks more credibility.

Rahman, who joined Osama bin Laden’s ranks in 1990, was no ordinary terrorist. Born and raised in Libya and known by his friends as an Islamist with extremist credentials in his early years, Rahman utilized his beliefs into action by opposing the now defunct Libyan government of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. Unlike most of his colleagues, Rahman fully grasped the ideological, religious and militant components of the jihadist environment, knowing when to flee when trouble was near and when to turn up the notches when the enemy was either distracted or weakened.

After being chased from Libya by Gaddafi’s anti-Islamist crackdown, Rahman decided to do what most jihadists did in the late 1980s — he made his way to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupation. His stamina on the battlefield, his intellect and his ability to impress his superiors soon put him on Bin Laden’s radar. Rahman was rapidly promoted in the Al Qaeda ranks over the next few years.

Over the course of his jihadist career, Rahman was responsible for some of the most crucial operations against the West in Al Qaeda’s history. Before it made its splash on the world stage in 1998 — when the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed — Rahman attempted to draw Algerian Islamist fighters into Al Qaeda’s global orbit. While he failed miserably in the effort — the Algerian fanatics actually detained Rahman for being too moderate — the mission exported Al Qaeda’s brand name into the Maghreb at a time when Islamic militants were engaged in a bloody insurgency against the Algerian armed forces.

Far from being deterred by his imprisonment at the hands of Algeria’s radicals, Rahman escaped and returned to Afghanistan, advising Al Qaeda on issues on all ends of the terrorism spectrum, from recruitment to finances to grand strategy.

His work in the organization was especially valuable after the United States toppled the Taliban government and eliminated the group’s safehaven in Afghanistan. Trapped in the mountains of western Pakistan and besieged by American forces only a few miles from the border, Rahman and his Al Qaeda colleagues would use Pakistan’s tribal areas as their new staging ground, rebounding themselves and extending their outreach to local Pakistani militant groups. Relationships were forged between Arab jihadists and their Pashtun hosts, forming a level of protection that would prove vital as Pakistani soldiers and American drone aircraft worked in tandem to flush out their operatives.

Perhaps more interesting than Rahman’s terrorist activities was his view of what he was trying to accomplish. As opposed to Osama bin Laden, who was obsessed with mimicking the 9/11 attacks, or a low level fighter who dreamed to strap on a suicide bomb, Rahman was working with Ayman al-Zawahiri to improve the organization’s tarnished image in the Arab world.

As Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was cutting of the heads of foreigners in Iraq, driving suicide bombers into marketplaces and killing people on an indiscriminate basis, Rahman was begging Bin Laden’s Iraqi affiliate to stop killing purely for violence’s sake. Murdering fellow Muslims, he argued, was an act that would turn the Arab masses against Al Qaeda’s campaign against the West, depriving it of popular support and undercutting the very Ummah that the jihadists were supposedly trying to defend.

Rahman was also instrumental in attempting to bring Al Qaeda’s many affiliates, whether in Iraq, Africa or the Arabian Peninsula, under the centralized control of Al Qaeda’s core in Pakistan. He was the point man for much of the correspondence and directives that were issued between Bin Laden and his various franchises, and a man that both sides trusted.

If indeed Rahman was killed, a claim that Pakistan has yet to confirm officially, Al Qaeda has clearly lost a man who garnered the respect of his commanders and the admiration of his followers. If he, however, is still alive, it is quite obvious who should be at the top of the CIA’s kill or capture list.

Why the United States Need Pakistan

One of the oddities of international politics is why despite being close to a failed state and haven a proven record for exporting terrorism, Pakistan has so far largely escaped disaster from outside. The answer lies in the support it receives from the United States.

Questions of strategy tend to be analyzed within the context of recent history and the foreseeable future. In order to fully understand the Pakistan conundrum however, one needs to go back further. Read more “Why the United States Need Pakistan”

The Devil We Know

The balance of power in the Indian Ocean rim has been degrading for some time but China’s recent decision to sell submarines to Pakistan threatens to further upset South Asia’s fragile nuclear balance. The question we must ask ourselves is “who do we want counterbalancing India’s naval might in decades to come?”.

Pakistan is weak and not getting any better. It is an artificial polity and much of its problems stem from that very fact. It lacks a cohesive core ethnicity, it lacks geographical coherence (the Indus valley having never been an easily defensible position without strategic depth) and its demographic-raw materials proportion is worsening due to population growth.

What Pakistan has in abundance is geostrategic relevance. All those interested in counterbalancing India (China), Iran (Saudi Arabia) and Russia (the West) have a permanent and vested interest in propping up Pakistan.

For this reason, Pakistan’s military apparatus always has been and always will be powerful. While the Pakistani army and air force have made the difference in their wars with India and in small deployments to the Middle East (against Israel and later in support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen), Pakistan’s navy has long been the weaker branch. India always managed to control the sea lanes when in conflict with its rival. Read more “The Devil We Know”

The Big Picture in Mumbai

India, a country with over one billion people, hundreds of millions of aspiring entrepreneurs entering the jobs market and a national economy growing at an astounding rate, has long been the superstar of South Asia. No other country in the region, be it Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Nepal, comes close to the economic and political success that India has achieved over the past decade. And no other player in the region carries as much geopolitical weight — India has invested heavily inside war weary Afghanistan and tapped into emerging markets on the African continent.

However, there has always been one persistent problem that India has been unable to shake, both because of its increasing stature in the world and its zero-sum relations with its neighbors. That Achilles heel is terrorism and it struck again last week inside India’s historical and economic capital, Mumbai.

Just as people were heading home from work, three bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Mumbai’s upper class jewelry sector, a venue where thousands of people stream into every day. The attack, which killed 21 people and injured over one hundred, was clearly designed to claim the lives of many more — Indian investigators have reported that the bombs were set on a timer and located in places that would not have been given a second look by police (an umbrella is not necessarily the first object you would suspect of carrying a homemade explosive).

The message of the strike was also clear — India is still a vulnerable target to semi-coordinated attacks, despite the billions of dollars that the Indian government has poured into its intelligence services and the years of preparation that New Delhi has nourished since the last major attack on an Indian city in November 2008.

Given the attacks’ location, speculation immediately fell on two jihadist groups. One, the Pakistani-based Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT), is the most obvious suspect due to its support stream from Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The fact that the LeT was originally organized in 1990 as an anti-Indian jihadist group to fight the occupation of Kashmir only adds to the claims voiced by many Indians that the group is again shedding innocent blood on their soil.

The other group, the Indian Mujahideen, is a smaller organization that is Indian born and bred, and they too have conducted terrorist strikes on Indian targets. 2008, the same year that LeT massacred one hundred and sixty people in Mumbai, was an especially successful year for the mujahideen, most of whom have been pressured into hiding by Indian security personnel.

What really matters in the immediate term, however, is not who the perpetuators are. For the families of the loved ones who perished, this statement comes across as cold and jaded. But it is nevertheless an important one to repeat, for the terrorists could create far more damage over the next few weeks if Indian investigators and counterterrorism officials jump to the wrong conclusion or if the Indian government makes a mistake in the heat of the moment.

During the last major terrorist spectacle in 2008, Indian and Pakistani government officials were in the midst of resolving some of their outstanding grievances over a number of issues, the most significant being Kashmir and how the two governments could build a relationship that would at least keep the area somewhat peaceful. A deal was as close as it had ever been, until the 2008 terrorist attacks cut short the negotiations and poisoned any chance of an agreement getting through. A single act of terror not only cut short the lives of one hundred and sixty innocent civilians but laid to rest the best opportunity that India and Pakistan had to move past their differences.

This month, Pakistan and India will meet again, this time at the Foreign Ministry level. Those discussions will be the first of its kind in the last two years. Kashmir will of course be on the agenda, as will regional and bilateral security, terrorism, trade and a whole list of issues that affect the interests of both countries. Ensuring that those talks proceed, even as Indians are currently feeling pain, is the one thing that will help both countries move past this latest crisis. It will also demonstrate to the terrorists, whoever they are, that their cowardice will not ruin another gamble at peace in the region.

Revenge is a close second only to sadness after a terrorist incident occurs. A week after the Mumbai blasts, Indians are feeling a penchant for revenge, with some naturally wondering if Pakistan is where that revenge should be directed. But revenge also clouds judgment and rational thinking, spurring a chain of events that may be easy to explain today but difficult to justify in the future.

India and Pakistan should learn from the past and refuse to use the latest act of terrorism as an excuse to blow off negotiations before they even started.

The Durand Line of Fire

Over the course of the war, cross border militancy along the disputed Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier has generally streamed from one direction. Fighters loyal to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network rest in Pakistan’s tribal areas and when ready, travel across the porous border into eastern Afghanistan where they launch operations against US, NATO and Afghan government forces. In fact, the cross border flow of militants over the past three years has been such a problem for the United States that its security relationship with Pakistan has been severely jeopardized by the inability or unwillingness of Islamabad to go after every Islamist group residing in its territory. The Afghan government, leery of Pakistan’s interests in the region to begin with, has also claimed that Pakistani authorities are harboring elements of the Afghan insurgency and using them as proxies in their country.

Very rarely during the decade long Afghanistan conflict have Afghan based fighters penetrated into Pakistan with the intent and purpose of attacking Pakistani security checkpoints in the tribal areas. Yet with NATO and Afghan soldiers outside of many villages and towns deep inside Afghanistan’s border provinces, it appears that anti-Pakistani militants have taken the opportunity to insert themselves into the landscape. Read more “The Durand Line of Fire”

Is India Rooting for Pakistan’s Disintegration?

Is India secretly rooting for Pakistan’s disintegration? According to analyst with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, an Indian foreign-policy think tank, it is by keeping the conflict with its western rival alive. Pakistan’s India fixation, they predict, will be its undoing.

In a projection of the future of South Asia, the institute’s analysts, participating in a grand strategy competition with the geopolitical analysis community Wikistrat, point out that the region’s primary dynamic — the India-Pakistan conflict — is ruining the latter as it’s forced to spend massive amounts on defense at the detriment of its economy and internal cohesion.

“Pakistan’s basic problem,” the participants at Wikistrat write, “is the army’s control of virtually every economic enterprise in the state and its refusal to allow internal introspection of anything military.” As long as the army remains in power, directly or by proxy, systemic reforms are highly unlikely to be implemented.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence services still consider a war with India the most lethal threat to their nation. This makes it extremely difficult for the Pakistanis to cut their ties with radical Islamists in their frontier area and Afghanistan as this hinterland is supposed to provide their army with “strategic depth” in the event of an invasion. India, according to Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies’ analysts, is consciously exacerbating this tension.

India has stepped up its financial investments in the government of Hamid Karzai, knowing full well that these investments will go waste come 2014 when the Americans withdraw, for no better reason than to force Pakistan to continue its destabilization of Afghanistan and sully its already bad reputation with NATO. This is expected by the Indians to result in the diplomatic, political, military and economic isolation of Pakistan starting 2014.

India developed the unusable and dangerous doctrine of “Cold Start” — staging several exercises a year under its aegis — to keep Pakistani military spending high and drive them to a wild expansion of their nuclear arsenal. Now that Pakistan has modified its strategy and arsenal to counter Cold Start, India has shifted its entire doctrinal orientation again to massed armor attacks, making the last ten years worth of investment by the Pakistanis redundant and forcing yet another expensive reorientation on their part.

India has engaged in a repeated and steady stream of ballistic missile defense tests, ostensibly to offset Pakistani intermediate range ballistic missiles but this resulted in Pakistan proactively going in for a nuclear and missile force expansion.

Fear of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons eventually falling into terrorist hands and America’s unlikely willingness to intervene militarily on a sufficiently large scale in the country are deemed to force Washington’s hand toward implementing a plan of seizing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Indeed, the disintegration of Pakistan is seen as a prerequisite to fully institutionalizing India’s alliance with the United States by its civilian leaders. India’s armed forces are afraid that their freedom of action against Pakistan would be compromised by too close a relationship with the Americans. Hence India’s decision to European fighter jets earlier this year. “India’s prime ministers — cutting across party lines — therefore have followed a two pronged policy to shore up the American alliance.”

First is to present the service chiefs the alliance as a fait accompli by making America indispensable to India politically, economically and infrastructurally. The second prong — to assuage the generals and air marshals — is to pursue to breakup of Pakistan with a vengeance so as to remove that one irritant that makes the armed forces dig in their heels.

Without Pakistan to worry about, the Indian Army could dramatically reduce troop levels from almost a million today to some 300,000 in the future, freeing up funds for modernization and specialization efforts.

Pakistan’s armed forces are unlikely to survive a breakup of the Muslim state intact. The majority of services personnel is Punjabi but some 35 percent is Pashto. “Complicating matters though is the radical-secular divide within the army which due to its secretive nature is hard to gauge accurately and determine how that split will complicate the dynamics — or possibly trump ethnicity.” Certainly it seems radicalization among the army’s middle ranks is becoming a problem.

The balkanization of Pakistan could result in years of guerrilla warfare in the tribal areas, with significant internal displacement as happened in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. India has prepared against that eventuality with an electrified border fence (PDF) so refugees would likely seek safe haven in western and northern parts of Afghanistan and Central Asia as fighting concentrates on the border between the North West Frontier Province and the Punjab. Balochistan and Sindh, which contain vast natural riches and have access to the sea respectively, would not be able to escape violence spilling over into their territories.

The Dangerous Course of Journalism in Pakistan

The Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, is commonly seen by Pakistanis and foreigners alike as the most powerful institution in the Pakistani government. Pakistan’s civilian politicians are often wobbly on core issues that concern the United States and the international community. Most of the bureaucrats in the ministries, as well as most of the city level officials, are seen as corrupt players in a duplicitous Pakistani political atmosphere.

The Pakistani military and its partners at the ISI, on the other hand, are often the first that are met by American diplomats when they travel to the country. The ISI is responsible for the one policy area that the Pakistani government is incessantly focused on — self preservation. Intelligence officials in the directorate are both feared and loved in Pakistan. Feared because the organization lurks in the shadows and is known for making dissidents disappear but loved because Pakistani intelligence chiefs are the first line of defense against their Indian archival.

Indeed, the United States fully grasps the civil-military power imbalance in Pakistan. Prime ministers like Benazir Bhutto and Yousaf Raza Gilani and presidents like Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are no match for the likes of a Pervez Musharraf, Parvez Kayani and Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Pakistani politicians have even expressed their deep displeasure with the army meddling in civilian politics — an intervention that sometimes overturns everything these men and women have been working for throughout their careers.

Nevertheless, the army is still what draws the American foreign policy establishment into the country on most of the important issues. The conventional wisdom is that the United States can always worry about Pakistan’s economy at a later date. It is Afghanistan, terrorism, Islamist extremism, nuclear proliferation and South Asian security that need to be dealt with now.

Yet the ISI, and indeed the Pakistani Military as a whole, has had a particularly bad month. After failing to detect American aircraft during the Osama bin Laden operation, Pakistani generals were lambasted by their civilian counterparts for incompetence. It did not help the military’s case that the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding out only a few miles from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point.

Then, weeks later, militants associated with the Tehrik i-Taliban Pakistan (or Pakistani Taliban) launched a highly coordinated and impressive strike against a Pakistani naval base in the port city of Karachi. The insurgent group held the base for roughly fifteen hours until they were driven out and killed by security forces. The episode claimed the lives of ten security personnel and the destruction of two American-made planes. The attack once again highlighted worries over whether the lower levels of Pakistan’s armed forces were being infiltrated by extremists, a concern that American officials have been carrying for years.

But the latest incident — the abduction and killing of a Pakistani journalist — will perhaps receive the most attention and the most criticism from members of Pakistan’s press and civilian government. While the ISI has not been fingered for the journalist’s death, human rights groups suspect that the intelligence organization may have been involved.

The ISI is the lead spy agency against other countries but the organization is also known for monitoring its own citizens. It is almost routine procedure for Pakistani journalists to be rounded up by Pakistani intelligence over reporting that the agency deems unflattering. The military brass looks down upon any article, story or television program that spurs a negative reaction toward the security establishment, often calling such articles schemes meant to deliberately weaken their support and institutional prestige among Pakistani society. Umar Cheema, an award winning investigative journalist, was kidnapped and beaten last year for an article that he had written about the army. The ISI was never implicated for the beating, but Mr Cheema believes that they were the ones who carried out the abduction.

The death of Syed Saleem Shahzad on May 31 may be another case of journalism being punished by the Pakistani state. Kidnapped in Islamabad, he was found dead one hundred and fifty miles away from the capital, his bloated body showing marks of beatings and torture. The ISI quickly denied accusations that it was involved but its leadership certainly had a motive — Shahzad’s latest piece was about a possible connection between Islamic militants and the Pakistani army. Shahzad also reported to Human Rights Watch, the most internationally respected human rights watchdog group, that he was receiving threats from the ISI for years over his work.

The Committee to Protect Journalists already ranks Pakistan as the most dangerous place for reporters. The disappearance and killing of another, whoever was involved, will not help the country move down the list. And neither will the ISI regain its international credibility if instances like this continue to occur. In world politics, you do not need to be proven guilty. Mere speculation is often enough to warrant a guilty verdict. In this case, there is plenty of suspicion to go around for Pakistan’s intelligence directorate.