Pakistan, Intelligence and Security

Pakistan, Intelligence and Security

In 1947, the British ended their colonial control of the Indian subcontinent. British India was divided into two sovereign states, predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. A war in 1971 further divided the region, creating the nation of Bangladesh. The division sparked endemic strife in the region, especially in the ethnically diverse Kashmir province. Tensions over Kashmir, water rights of the Indus River, and occasional armed conflict continue to plague Pakistan and India.

Conflict in the region escalated in the late 1990s when India began extensive nuclear weapons testing near the Pakistani border. In 1998, Pakistan began a nuclear weapons program. Western nations, including the United States, are concerned not only with the possibility of dueling nuclear powers on the Indian subcontinent, but also with the possible proliferation of nuclear materials and technology to neighboring nations and terrorist organizations. Pakistan's intelligence services are suspected of playing a crucial role in the country's nuclear program, both securing nuclear materials and conducting espionage on other nuclear programs.

Pakistan's intelligence community is divided into three main agencies. The agencies are neither wholly civilian, nor wholly military, and their duties in foreign and domestic intelligence often overlap. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the premier Pakistani intelligence and security organization. The ISI collects domestic and foreign intelligence, focusing especially on surveillance of foreign diplomats operating within Pakistan. No government or military body oversees the actions of the ISI, which has led to the agency gaining significant power. The ISI monitors communications, maintains a special, military-trained action group, and conducts political espionage.

Various operational divisions within the ISI attend to different aspects of the organization's mission to protect national security. The Joint Signal Intelligence Bureau coordinates communications and signal surveillance operations. The Joint Counter Intelligence Bureau monitors Pakistani diplomats serving abroad and conducts counter-espionage operations. Assessing threats to national security and collating intelligence data is the primary responsibility of the Joint Intelligence X.

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is Pakistan's main domestic intelligence and espionage agency. The IB conducts political surveillance of politicians, government agents, businesses, and citizen groups. Political surveillance is used to identify and infiltrate groups that the Pakistani government considers hostile or anti-government. Although the agency has no formal arrest powers, suspects are often arrested and detained by law enforcement at the request of IB officials. In 1996, the IB was granted control of government censorship programs, controlling information dissemination via mail, wire, or electronic medium.

The Pakistani government has been dominated by military forces for decades. The election of some moderate leaders in 2000 led to minor demilitarization reforms within the government. In subsequent elections, Islamist hardliners gained seats in Pakistan's parliament, effectively halting impending reforms. A reflection of the government, the Pakistani intelligence community is also a mix of military and civilian forces. Military Intelligence (MI) performs the same duties as its government agency counterpart, conducting political surveillance and protecting national security. While the MI is especially concerned with the security of military installations, weapons facilities, and border control, its routine operations are similar to the ISI and IB.

While some reforms have been made to the Pakistani intelligence community, the national government continues to take criticism from the international community on its lack of support for antiterrorism measures in the region. The United States officially warned Pakistan to cease terrorist operations in India in the late 1990s. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Pakistan again came under the scrutiny of Western nations for its tolerance of terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda, operating within its borders. Although Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, eventually pledged and lent support to the United States-led coalition in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, some Western analysts initially challenged the commitment and loyalties of the Pakistani intelligence service toward the international war on terrorism. Subsequent actions have signaled Pakistan's overt willingness to become a full and active participant in the international war on terrorism. On March 1, 2003, agents of Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency, in cooperation with U.S. CIA operatives tracked down and arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected al-Qaeda operations director implicated in a string of terrorist attacks. Pakistan intelligence agents were also instrumental in the prior arrest of another highly placed al-Qaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaida. Both terrorists were turned over to the CIA for interrogation at an undisclosed location.



Jaffrelot, Christophe. A History of Pakistan and Its Origins. Translated by Gillian Beaumont. New York: Anthem Press, 2002.

Jones, Owen Bennett. Pakistan: Eye of the Storm. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

Ziring, Lawrence. Pakistan in the Twentieth Century: A Political History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.


Gauhar, Altaf. "How Intelligence Agencies Run Our Politics." The Nation. September 1997: 4.


India, Intelligence and Security
Nonproliferation and National Security, United States
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Weapons of Mass Destruction, Detection

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