Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency is schizophrenic about terrorism. It sponsors terrorist groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Toiba while also collaborating with the CIA to attack other terrorists. Quietly, the U.S. has a way to mitigate the tension: It sponsors an office inside the Pakistani spy apparatus and buys cooperation.
But now that office might be a casualty of the rising acrimony between Washington and Islamabad.
Deep within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) lurks T Wing, one of the few offices inside the agency that the U.S. trusts, unearthed by our friend Eli Lake of Newsweek in a blockbuster story. Around the 10th anniversary of September 11, U.S. spies got a bead on the cellphone of al-Qaida’s operations chief in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Frontier Corps snatched him, and soon the terrorist was subjected to “intensive interrogation” at a “special detention center in Punjab province,” Lake reports. T Wing runs that center.
If the name sounds odd, it’s likely a play on S Wing — the branch of the ISI believed to sponsor terrorist groups and undermine pro-American factions nestled within the spy bureaucracy. Lake reports that T Wing emerged “from scratch” beginning in 2007. And it’s not alone.
“America also has embraced and funded units connected to Pakistan’s Interior Ministry,” Lake writes, “particularly in the corruption-ridden megalopolis of Karachi, where the local police are not considered reliable counterterrorism partners.”
Beyond that, the CIA has its own network of Pashtun spies who traverse the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, spotting strike targets for the drone war overhead.
Or at least it did. A week after a U.S. helicopter crew accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, U.S.-Pakistani relations are continuing their downward spiral. Sure, Pakistan has yet to deny the U.S. flyover permissions, which would seriously complicate the drone war. But it’s “temporarily” withdrawing troops from the Afghanistan border, effectively turning a blind eye to insurgent infiltration. Powerful U.S. senators are publicly flirting with yanking American financial subsidies to Pakistan.
Whatever the merits of that step, it could doom T Wing, which probably hasn’t had an easy time maintaining itself inside ISI to begin with. (Just imagine the awkward break-room conversations.) That’s one way to resolve Pakistan’s terrorism schizophrenia.