THE BLOG

The CIA & The ISI: More In Common Than We Think?

'Drones Kill 12 Children Playing Outside'
'A Family Buries 15'
'Americans Target the Wrong House Again'

Virtually every morning on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan, these sorts of headlines gleamed across the front pages of major papers, led the evening news broadcasts and drove conversations around dinner tables in both elite and impoverished households alike. With average Pakistanis losing their lives at the hands of terrorist elements within their country at an alarming rate, concern was visibly rampant even as folks went about their daily functions. It was at the top of this year that I found myself here, in of one of the most complicated -- yet integral -- countries in the world. Almost instantaneously, I was engaged in a routine process of interfacing with countless locals with the hopes of garnering the sentiments of average citizens when it comes to terrorism, the United States and their own self-autonomy.

As an American of Pakistani descent, I was met with enthusiasm, sometimes with intrigue and most often with suspicion. Walking down the streets of the country's largest metropolis, you could hear the latest Lady Gaga song blasting through someone's radio, or see your favorite Hollywood blockbuster bootlegged on the sidewalks. But traveling to such a volatile region in a post-9/11 world, you could also easily feel a sense of growing concern. At times hesitant to congregate in crowded areas over fear of random violence, these Pakistanis were simultaneously openly critical -- yet divided -- on their views of Americans.

Following the recent release of the now infamous 92,000 classified U.S. army documents via Wikileaks, the most blaring headline here at home quickly read something like this: 'Pakistan's spy agency meets with insurgents and in some cases plans attacks against Americans'. At first glance, this is unquestionably a troubling, inflammatory notion; how could Pakistan's own secret service, the ISI, engage in covert acts that run counter to our mission, and in effect, stand in direct opposition to their own open political stance? But upon further and deeper assessment, we can see how Pakistan's seemingly contradictory behavior is not too far off base from our own apparent paradoxical actions.

We in the United States are currently engaged in two active wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to troops on the ground and in the air, our military runs a predator drone program (unmanned aerial vehicles) in both countries. At the same time, in public discourse and policy we have acknowledged nothing but support for the nation of Pakistan as it works alongside our own military to root out terrorism in Afghanistan and within its own bordering communities. As we have repeatedly stated, Pakistan is our biggest ally against extremists and many within Pakistan argue that they have sacrificed the most in terms of dead soldiers and exhausted manpower.

But we are not -- and never have been -- at war with Pakistan. So why is it that our own intelligence agency and military engages in secret, covert attacks that have led to the deaths of over 700 civilians in 2009 alone? If our own undisclosed actions conflict with our public diplomacy, can we really be enraged when Pakistanis are alleged to do the same?

The BBC recently released its findings of our predator drone program in Pakistan, which is oftentimes outsourced to private contractors like XE (formerly Blackwater). The results were startling to say the least. Since President Obama has been in office, the drone attacks have increased threefold. The predator aircraft take off in hidden bases within Pakistan every day, sometimes several times a day. And according to local Pakistani media, like the Dawn newspaper, for each terrorist killed by U.S. drones, some 140 innocent Pakistanis also lose their lives.

I was in Pakistan when ethnic warfare, another byproduct of the combat in neighboring Afghanistan, erupted regularly on the streets. As local merchants and families alike argued over whether or not an American clandestine program was assisting or further exacerbating internal strife, their undeniable frustration and trepidation was clearly evident.

On the one hand, many welcomed a united front to defeat terrorism that continuously plagued their streets on an every day basis. But consistently reading reports of 'collateral damage' and innocent men, women and children losing their lives at the hands of a secret program, their views on the U.S. were visibly torn -- much like ours now are on Pakistan.