With a little help from their friends: Richard Seymour examines the role of the powerful Pakistani intelligence agency that helped to blow the cover of the recent suspected plot to bomb transatlantic flights mid-flight.

Author:Seymour, Richard
Position::Inter Services Intelligence
 
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ON THURSDAY, 10 August, police in the UK arrested 21 people on suspicion of plotting to blow up transatlantic passenger planes in mid-flight. While the majority of those arrested have since been released without charge from custody, a number are continuing to be questioned and the operation has been hailed a success of intelligence and old-fashioned police work. Meanwhile, the campaign to track down those who might be involved in such plots continues across Britain.

The nature of the alleged attack (liquid explosives) would have led to it being extremely difficult to detect even after the event. Were it not for information received it would have, in all likelihood, succeeded, according to officials. So from where did the information come?

It is thought that British security received a tip-off from Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). But who are the ISI?

The ISI was created by a British army officer in 1948 in the wake of the British partitioning of India. Its remit was quickly expanded and included the collection of intelligence on political opposition and the maintenance of the status quo which was, and still is, military rule.

Fortunes for the ISI rose and fell over the following decades depending on who was holding the reins of power. Then came the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s where the ISI emerged, as did Al Qaeda, as beneficiaries of training from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

This newly-acquired expertise was put to use in the disputed territory of Kashmir where a number of militant groups, which regularly launch attacks against Indian interests in the area, enjoy the political support of the Pakistan government via the ISI.

One such militant group, Jaish-e-Muhammad, has been linked with the alleged London terror plot via Rashid Rauf who is a close relative of Mashood Azhar--the group's leader.

It was the arrest of Rauf that triggered the wave of arrests in the UK for fear that it would serve as a signal to the alleged bombers to bring forward their operation.

In an effort to distance itself from association with Rauf, the ISI have claimed that he 'deserted' Jaish-e-Muhammad for Al Qaeda. However, a declassified report from the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) outlines Pakistan's role in allowing Al Qaeda "to expand under the safe sanctuary extended by Taliban following Pakistani directives".

With these links between the ISI and Al Qaeda, and also those that are well-documented between the CIA...

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