Pakistan Panel at the International Spy Museum

I haven’t posted lately, because my summer internship has nothing to do with Afghanistan and I have too much other news to catch up on to pay close attention to all the news from the region. But I am in D.C., which means that I have the opportunity to go to some cool and relevant events.

Last night, the International Spy Museum hosted a forum on Pakistan with Bruce Riedel (former CIA officer and head of Obama’s Afghanistan review team), Shuja Nawaz (strategic analyst with the Atlantic Council), and Teresita Schaeffer (former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka). Given the venue, the focus was nominally the intelligence angle–particularly the role of the Directorate for Inter Services Intelligence–but the discussion also touched on American aid, Pakistani politics, and the Pakistan-India rivalry.

Since Riedel is (after Richard Holbrooke) the man whose name appears most often in conjunction with “Af-Pak”, I had hoped he’d address the debate about that term. He did so, unambiguously:

I don’t think anyone on this panel used the terminology “Af-Pak” and I’m glad they didn’t. I think it’s insulting. I don’t mean this personally. But I don’t think when we talk about two countries who are our putative allies and partners we should refer to them in a diminutive way. So let’s leave “Af-Pak” to USA Today and other newspapers that don’t have enough space to spell the names of our partners.

I’m not sure that the diminutive part is necessarily insulting (Benelux?), but there you have it.

Riedel talked at length about the history and motives of the ISI, which he doesn’t consider a “rogue agency”–just one that does the bidding of its military masters. So it’s like any other agency when the military is in power–it’s when civilians are in government that the tension starts. Riedel demonstrated a lot of professional admiration for the ISI, and he made it clear that he doesn’t believe many other agencies could play the same kind of double game with extremists.

But that game obviously has some limits. First, Riedel argued that last week’s attack in Lahore signaled open warfare between the ISI and the Pakistani Taliban. (Not that the ISI was directly a patron of the Taliban before, but the Taliban collaborate closely with groups they do sponsor.) Second, Riedel made the case that the plausible deniability that the ISI provides for Pakistan–something every state needs from its intelligence agencies–has its limits. Like putting a terrorist under house arrest for six months and calling it a stern response, for example.

Riedel kinda tentatively endorsed Predator drone strikes. What he said at first was something like: If we know about an impending terrorist attack and we can kill the plotters with airstrikes, there’s no politician in the country who wouldn’t give the go-ahead. That made me think he wasn’t actually proposing that as a good policy–just describing an indisputable political fact. But later in the questions section, he praised Obama’s semi-controversial commitment to “take out” terrorists based on “actionable intelligence”, and indicated that he considered the Predator strikes an example of that policy in action.

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