Old Habits, New Challenges to Pakistani Establishment

Many senior officers in the Pakistani Army still remember the days when, not so long ago, evenings were spent in crusty officers' messes, buying or being bought a round of whiskey with "the boys" before retiring for the night.

The rules in those days came from the "Sandhurst tradition" a military culture modeled on the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England, that trained the British Army's officer corps and on which model the Indian and Pakistani armies were based.

But while the Indian Army still strives to maintain the Sandhurst tradition, epitomized by the unwritten gentlemen's code of conduct: 'No talk of women or politics in the mess, infringers buy a round of whiskey for all,' the Pakistani Army consciously dumped its colonial traditions in the 1980s for what is widely known as an "Islamization" process.

As the world watches in alarm as tens of thousands of incensed anti-U.S. demonstrators have been gathering on the streets of Pakistani cities and thousands of tribesmen line up at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to offer their services to their fellow tribesmen — the Taliban — in its "war against America," the world instinctively understands that Pakistan's stability cannot be taken for granted.

And as the military campaign in Afghanistan promises to realign global geo-politics, Pakistan's stability is a vital strategic concern to the international community. But while pundits have been attempting to monitor the situation in Pakistan in the worry lines on the face of its president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, not much attention has been paid to two pivotal Pakistani institutions: the army and the intelligence agency, Interservices Intelligence, or ISI as it is known.

"Historically, Pakistan's armed forces and intelligence services have been seen as the two strategically important pillars of the four that made up Pakistani civil society," said Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American who has been a consultant to the U.S. government in nuclear nonproliferation, counterterrorism and Islamic issues. "The other two, democracy and religion, have failed as institutional frameworks — one having collapsed under the weight of corruption and the other having deeply damaged civil society by breeding radicalism."

The radicalization of the army is widely believed to have started in the 1980s under the tenure of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, then Pakistani leader and military commander-in-chief. It was, according to Sumantra Bose, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics, a part of Zia's radicalization of Pakistani society as a whole in order to quell political dissent.

A State Within a State

But while the military has controlled the Muslim-dominated country for most of its 54-year history and its presence is visible, relatively little is made public about the influential, highly secretive ISI, an institution widely believed to have spawned the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

"The ISI is like a state within a state," said Bose. "Pakistan has an extensive network of intelligence agencies and the ISI is the crown jewel of the network. While it is a part of the Pakistani military establishment, at the same time it has a record of independence that dates back to the Afghan war in the 1980s."

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