The army and the ISI | Pakistan Today

The army and the ISI

Truths, half truths, and blatant lies



The son of late Brig Mohammad Ahmad (later DG IB and author of “My Chief”, a biography of Field Marshal Ayub Khan) and one of my closest friends since childhood, Col (R) Salman Ahmad, has fought more battles than anyone else in Pakistan army’s history. Starting with Bedian in the 1965 war, this unsung hero participated extensively in counter guerilla operations in former East Pakistan during 1971. His SSG Company supported our (44 Punjab now 4 Sindh) counter-insurgency operations in Balochistan in 1973. Subsequently in 1973 he trained Afghan dissidents in Peshawar under command of Brig (later Maj Gen and Governor) Nasirullah Khan Babar, then Inspector General Frontier Corps (FC) and later PPP stalwart. Ahmad Shah Masoud, Haji Din Mohammad (presently Karzai’s Advisor), Engineer Ayub (former Minister) and a whole host of Afghan dissidents belonging to Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, etc, factions were among his students.

This clandestine outreach strategy was commissioned by none other the than President of Pakistan, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The next time the PPP start fulminating about Ziaul Haq’s intervention in Afghanistan, they should kindly get their facts right. Neither the army nor the ISI started our Afghan adventurism, this was a deliberate state policy crafted by PPP’s founder. Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind, Indira Gandhi suffered the Sikh backlash of Sanjay Gandhi’s ill-advised sponsorship of Bhindranewala, Ms Benazir paid the price for her father’s interference in Afghanistan. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari needs a tutorial on his grandfather’s “vision thing”.

After commanding 2 Commando in 1982-83, Salman transferred to the ISI to take charge of training and operations for Afghan Mujahideen from 1983 to 1985. Codenamed “Col Faizan”, from 1985 to 1990 he ran all ISI/CIA operations in the south of Afghanistan (including the area around Kandahar and Herat). He took Sandy Gall, Carlotta’s father, deep into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan to film the BBC documentary “Allah Against the Gunships”, depicting the Mujahideen fighting Soviet helicopter gunships with small arms (before the Stingers arrived).

Late Col Sultan Amir Tarar (codenamed Col Imam) operated mostly in the north, the common perception that he discovered Mullah Umar is not true. As Ms Benazir’s Interior Minister in her second term as PM, Gen Babar tasked Sultan Amir, Consul General Kandahar in 1994-1995, to get Mullah Umar’s help in recovering Pakistani trucks hijacked by bandits on the road to Herat west of Kandahar. Mullah Umar rode the momentum of this success, uniting all Mujahideen factions and Afghan army defectors under Taliban aegis in the Kandahar area and eventually taking control of most of Afghanistan. Initially with the Taliban, Mujahideen leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf later defected to the Northern Alliance; he was the one who invited Bin Laden back to Afghanistan. Having switched sides, five years later Bin Laden misused his Taliban sanctuary to commit 9/11, the most despicable of atrocities in modern history.

Faulty post-Afghan war policies were crafted by arm-chair strategists in the (then) ISI hierarchy having no experience whatsoever of the Afghan War.

Col Sultan Amir’s brutal murder by late TTP Chief Hakimullah Mehsud was shown on YouTube. Earlier former ISI official Sqn Ldr (retd) Khalid Khawaja was executed allegedly because of the telephonic misinformation fed to the Taliban by Hamid Mir that he was working for the CIA. Khalid Khawaja’s family members accused him of murder. Eye scans aside, “voice recognition” is the most authentic identification in bio-metrics today.

The faulty post-Afghan war policies were crafted by arm-chair strategists in the (then) ISI hierarchy having no experience whatsoever of the Afghan War. Having an ingrained inferiority complex for not having heard a shot being fired in anger, these “GT Road warriors” who rise to high rank invariably resent obtaining counsel from field veterans. Protesting this, Salman reverted to the army in 1990, retiring two years later. He repeated “I told you so” with great anguish over the years while Afghanistan went from bad to worse (and Pakistan spiralling downwards from worse to possibly “horrifying” post-2014).

The wrong perception of ISI being “a state within a state” developed during the Afghan War when it was given a free hand, first under Lt Gen (later Gen) Akhtar Abdul Rahman and then Lt Gen Hamid Gul, to partner with the CIA in organising the Mujahideen battling the Soviets. This perception of intelligence agencies is similar all over the world because of the nature of their business, their personnel are seemingly untouchable. Most ISI personnel are on deputation from the army mostly with a very small percentage from the Navy and Air Force, the regular cadre of ISI officers are mostly in the junior ranks. Officers and men from the Pakistan army (mostly from the SSG) like Salman and Sultan Amir joined ISI in droves to help the Afghans wage their “fight for freedom”. Giving the ultimate sacrifice in the “Jehad”, many of our unsung heroes lie buried in unmarked graves in Afghanistan, lamented only by their immediate family and friends.

The DG ISI in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s last tenure, Lt Gen Ziauddin, distanced himself from the army in support of the then PM, but when push came to shove on Oct 12, 1999 the ISI rank and file abandoned their own boss in support of the army chief. A not so well known fact, only Lt Gen Zahirul Islam has served an earlier ISI tenure before he became its DG, no other head of ISI has been in the ISI in any rank in its entire history.

A motivated canard “floated” by vested interests is that the army and the ISI hierarchy are somehow at odds. Almost the entire ISI hierarchy being from the army, the army and the ISI remain in sync. This baseless mischief is totally wrong, a pathetic attempt to invent a “truth” from a blatant lie. The detractors contradict themselves by simultaneously accusing the ISI of engineering army take-overs (the so-called “hidden hands”). When the ill-intentioned motivated become desperate, they resort to such blatant misinformation.

The army and the ISI have always been on the same page, and will always remain so.

Ikram Sehgal

Ikram Sehgal is a defence analyst and security expert.


  1. Iqbal said:

    Surely sir, you are a genius and what penned down above might be true. But hope having seen so much truth just see in your inner-self, policies of ISI has mostly damaged the country instead of serving any good like CIA, mossad etc. Particularly nowadays see what ISI's role in Balochistan, KPK and Karachi and specially how it has motivated religious uprising against Geo channel totally behaving like a bunch of KHABAR COLLECTORS for local ghundas. Don't you think ISI's role is shame and total shame. Instead of countering Indian and US agents who are trying to destabilize the country this bunch of Idiots is fighting own people.

    • Ikram sehgal said:

      I am not defending anyone but getting the facts right.however I am perplexed as to how you can blame the isi for the religious deviation by dr Shaista,that is really far fetched.the isi has not always been right and if you read my column again you will notice I have said so but to blame them wholesale fork pk,balochistan and karachi is really stretching the truth.5000 soldiers have died and 19000 have injured to ensure you and I can say in freedom what must be said

      • Mta said:

        Your facts are doctored not based on truth and reality.

  2. shahbaz thuthaal said:

    I fully endorse the views of the Author Ikram Sehgal. A well researched article about the ISI and their role for ill informed people in the Cabinet. who should think twice before opening their mouths. No wonder every one keeps putting the blame on ZIA UL HAQ for the AFGHAN JIHAD and the GUN RUNNING culture. ZAB being an Ambitious man himself started it all to become a THIRD WORLD leader. Putting WALI KHAN and others on trial in Hyderabad further damaged the credibility of ZAB.


    Muhammad Shahbaz Thathaal, Lahore

  3. col bhutta said:

    If u can not handle the handler than u should had not tasked the handler handling of Afghan jihad. Polices made in isolation later isolate u.

  4. Azher said:

    Agree with Ikram sehgal totally. True and factual article.
    To which id add – ‘ the tree of patriotism must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots ‘ Thomas Jefferson. Our soldiers. Their blood. Their lives. And their subsequent deaths are indeed what enable is to sleep safe. Enjoy life. And the many any freedoms and liberties we take for granted. Let’s give then the credit they deserve.

    • Anon said:

      Patriots are the ones who died for their country and me …

  5. Suhaib said:

    A comprehensive and insightful piece! very humanizing…

  6. A. Ahmad said:

    A bundle of lies by author. Who is going to verify the claims of this author who is ex establishment ? He claims Hamid Mir gave information to Taleban about Col Salman Amir that he is CIA agent ? Why you waited so long to punish Hamid Mir than? Is ISI only for destructive and criminal acts ? How much egg was put on country's face when Osama was caught by foreigners living lavishly under nose of military ? ISI has brought shame to country and make entire world enemy of Pakistan. If one goes by your claims of fight against Soviets, why today Americans openly say bad things about ISI ? Half of country was lost in 1971 and you were one of those who surrendered, you could not win a single war for country. Why everything is so secretive ? why no war report is made public ? why don't you show Pakistanis what you win from others ?? Stop misleading public in name of patriotism.

    • Raafey Khan said:

      Dear Mr. A.Ahmad
      Unfortunately we as a nation has one thing very common, "Jack of all Trade" that "we know everything rest all are wrong". I am a Textile person so my expertise is remain till Textile but the only thing I want to say regarding this article that all the things mentioned in this article by the author is true & authentic because it comes from the mouth of that person whom you don't know and I know him very well. We always believed on the news of so called "Western Media" because we as a nation don't believe in history, as we always want
      "Short cuts". Picture from the from the front and back is always different,

  7. Pak Sar Zameen said:

    Special services group of Pakistan army have conducted many successful operations in the region. It is one of the top 10 special forces in the world. Here is the detail of some Famous operations planned and executed by SSG.
    SSG Pakistan Army
    Feel free to add your knowledge in the comments..

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