Foreign Policy Blogs

ISI: Militants, Not India, Present Greatest Threat To Internal Security

Indian and Pakistani soldiers at the Wagah border crossing. Source:

According to the Wall Street Journal, a recent assessment by Pakistan’s top spy agency has concluded that Islamic militants pose a greater internal security threat to Pakistan than the Indian Army:

“The assessment, a regular review of national security, allocates a two-thirds likelihood of a major threat to the state coming from militants rather than from India or elsewhere. It is the first time since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 that India hasn’t been viewed as the top threat.”

Given the current state of affairs in Pakistan, this may seem like an obvious conclusion. For many observers of the country however, this finding indicates a startling recognition of ground realities by the powerful agency. Known as the ISI or Inter-Services Intelligence, the agency has consistently cultivated ties to militant organizations like the Taliban and Lakshar-e-Taiba, the former to ensure Pakistani suzerainty in Afghanistan and the latter as a strategic weapon against India.

This recognition is long overdue – the country has been besieged by terrorist violence, which has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 civilians and security personnel in 2008 and 2009 alone. It recently earned the dubious distinction of being among the world’s top 10 failed states, an index compiled annually by Foreign Policy Magazine. Compare these statistics to the number of Pakistani citizens who have come to harm because of India and you are left asking if “intelligence” should still be a part of the agency’s moniker.

India is reacting to the assessment with a healthy dose of skepticism. As recently revealed by the infamous Wikileaks, ISI, staffed by mostly active military officers, is knee deep in collaboration with the Taliban in “secret strategy sessions,” even as it receives $1 billion annually from the US:

“Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult.”

Furthermore, while home-grown militancy is obviously a problem for the country, it remains unclear if the agency views groups like Lakshar e-Taiba, which mainly target India, as part of the problem. India is also worried that while the ISI mainstream, which authored the report, may be open to some change, many of its officers, both retired and active, continue to retain their entrenched hatred for India.

While a few Indian news outlets have picked up the story, the revelation has gone mostly unnoticed by the Western media. In its analysis, Times of India wondered about the timing of the assessment’s release and surmised that the leaking of the report to WSJ by a senior ISI official could not have happened without the agency’s blessing. The newspaper speculated that the report might have been a response to the country’s image deficit in the eyes of the Western world, tragically apparent in the slow trickling in of much-needed aid after catastrophic floods.

Whatever the source and repercussions of the report, it presents small ray of hope as Pakistan veers from one devastating crisis to another.



Aarti Ramachandran

Aarti Ramachandran is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in International Affairs at Columbia University, New York, where she is specializing in energy policy with an emphasis on South Asia. She previously worked as public and government affairs advisor in the energy industry for five years. She holds a Masters degree in environmental engineering from Northwestern University and a Masters degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia.