Friday, November 18, 2016

Deciphering Pakistan’s ISI

Political scientist & historian Dr. Hein G. Kiessling speaks to Sapna Sarfare in an interview about his book Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan on the world’s most unknown yet heard secret service

Some books just catch your fancy. One recently did that for me. It was a book called Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan by Dr. Hein G. Kiessling and published by HarperCollins Publishers India. It happens to be the first comprehensive account of the ISI, Pakistan’s secret service organisation. The book delves into an organisation established during Indo-Pak independence and came into flowering with its involvement with the CIA during & after 1979. Political scientist & historian Dr. Kiessling has made an attempt to reveal things about Pakistan’s secret service. The book is a vital one to understand intelligence agencies especially the one which has kept India, South Asia and the world thinking. Dr. Kiessling gives us an insight into the book, ISI and more.

What aspects of ISI made it a worthy subject of your book?
Over the last 40 years in reports about developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan & India, ISI was mentioned often as one of the main players. From these reports, it became clear to me that deeper knowledge & information about the agency were, most of the time, not available. Until recently, there was also no English book on it existing. These were the motives for me to write my book.

It may not have been an easy subject to research, considering the nature of the organisation and that it is quite unlike other such agency. What were the highs & lows and frustrations?
Access to intelligence agencies to insiders, informed people & valuable information is naturally not easy. I worked hard on it and think I was successful to some extent. I got what I expected to get! For me, there were no real disappointments (lows) over the years in doing research. In contrast, I felt sometimes ‘high’ after successful meetings with big shots, both in Pakistan and India.
Looking back, frustration came up end of 2015 & spring 2016. It would have been a perfect publishing time. The book should have been at the same time in the markets in GB, USA and India. For some reasons, this did not happen - water under the bridge now.

The name intrigues me: Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan. How did that come about?
On airport road from Islamabad to Pindi, you find “Faith-Unity-Discipline” in big letters on a hill. You can see or read it even at night time. As the motto for Pakistan, it was created by Mohammed Ali Jinnah and later on, changed in sequence by Zia-Ul-Haq. Pakistan’s Military & Intelligence people feel strongly committed to this motto. My publisher in London, Michael Dwyer at Hurst, discussed the title question with me and we agreed it would be a good title for the book.

Reading the kind of news we do about Pakistan, it must have been interesting staying there for around 13 years.
I lived 4 years in Balochistan (Quetta/Loralai) and 9 years in Islamabad. Having a permit for the tribal areas, I traveled a lot. It was fascinating to meet people with different ethnic, religious & cultural background. By the way, over the years I was also at least 20 times in India. All together, the years in South Asia were a highlight in my working life.
"The man (Pakistani) on the street does not feel a direct ISI hold, but is often confused by reports & statements about the agency."
How much hold does ISI have over Pakistani politics & life?
There is no doubt that ISI has a strong hold on Pakistan’s, Afghanistan & India/Kashmir politics and also in the country’s security and fight against terrorism. Politicians, academics, journalists, columnists & mullahs knew this and must keep it in mind. The man on the street does not feel a direct ISI hold, but is often confused by reports & statements about the agency.

On a global level, how would you rate & place ISI as an agency?
The ISI is strongly organized, works effective and is probably the best intelligence agency in Asia.

Politics is ever changing. What keeps the political scientist & historian in you still excited about?
Seeing China working on a “New Silk Road”, on China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) and on getting control over the Indian Ocean. Seeing India’s efforts to counter it. Seeing the developments in Afghanistan and Iran. A fascinating region for a political observer. Though being already in retirement, in 2015, I was still once in India and three times in Pakistan.

What is the one factor about the book to describe the book and make a reader pick it up?
The book is based on open sources, many talks/meetings with real key players & my personal observations over the years. Special on the book are the fully included answers the ISI has given to me in writing in August 2015 on special questions like ‘First Nuke Use’, ‘Situation in Balochistan’, ‘R&AW in Afghanistan’, ‘Missing Persons’, ‘Memogate’, etc. In my mind, this makes the book interesting.

TITLE: Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan
AUTHOR: Dr. Hein G. Kiessling
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins Publishers India
PAGES: 320
PRICE: Rs. 599

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