Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 6 Issue: 2


In a recent interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General, Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, gave a rather startling reply when asked about the reluctance of Pakistan’s military to apprehend senior Taliban leaders based in Quetta and elsewhere in Pakistan: “Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn’t that freedom of opinion?" (Der Spiegel, January 6). The remark was undoubtedly of concern to U.S. counter-terrorism officials, who view the ISI with deep suspicion and have had only limited success in encouraging Pakistan’s military to engage Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan’s north-west frontier region. General Pasha directed military operations in that region from 2005 until his appointment as ISI commander on September 29, 2008.

Pakistan’s military later downplayed the ISI chief’s remarks through the armed forces’ Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which claimed that “important issues have been reported out of context or have been incorrectly constructed as a result of mistranslation… Some of the things reported are either incongruous or have not been clearly stated.” ISPR added that the general’s “views on the handling of al-Qaeda and other terrorists have been incorrectly reported” (NDTV [New Delhi], January 7; Daily Times [Lahore], January 10). ISPR claims of mistranslation may be a reach – Der Spiegel noted that the interview was conducted in English and in the General’s “surprisingly accent-free German,” learned while taking officer training in Germany during the 1980s.

The leader of the opposition in Pakistan’s National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N)), said the ISI chief should not be giving media interviews and described his remarks as “out of place” (Daily Times, January 13).

General Pasha denied that he and Armed Forces commander Ashfaq Pervez Kayani discussed U.S. drone attacks on Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects on Pakistani territory during a meeting with U.S. officials held on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier last August: "We never discussed that, nor did we agree to it… But to be honest, what can we do against the drone attacks? Should we fight the Americans or attack an Afghan post, because that’s where the drones are coming from? Can we win this? Does it benefit Pakistan?"

In another recent Spiegel interview, the head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS – domestic intelligence), Amrullah Saleh, noted, “When the Americans offered to fight the [Taliban/al-Qaeda] fighters themselves, the Pakistanis rejected them, saying you can’t go in, we are a sovereign state. The true reason behind this is that Islamabad is providing the militant groups with ammunition and training” (Der Spiegel, December 8, 2008).

The ISI director also stated that he reports “regularly to the president [Asif Ali Zardari] and take orders from him." The problem is that ISI is supposed to report to the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani (Dawn [Karachi], July 27, 2008; BBC, July 28, 2008). Prime Minister Gilani was forced to drop plans to transfer control of the ISI to the Interior Ministry last summer after objections from Armed Forces commander Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the General Staff (The Nation [Islamabad], July 27, 2008; Times of India, August 6, 2008; BBC, July 28, 2008). Pasha was appointed head of the ISI by General Kayani last September, despite efforts by the Prime Minister to assume control of the appointment process.

During the Spiegel interview, Lt.-Gen. Pasha suggested a war with India over the Mumbai incident was unlikely: "We may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know full well that terror is our enemy, not India."


Israel’s assault on Gaza has brought widespread condemnation from the Muslim world, though no Muslim nation has dared intervene so far. In many cases this official position is at variance with popular sentiments, as in distant Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

With no Israeli embassy in Jakarta (the two nations have no diplomatic relations) and no Jewish population to speak off, Indonesian anger at the Gaza incursion has at times been hard-pressed to find an avenue for expression. The country’s lone synagogue, a barely used and rabbi-less building in Surabaya, has been the target of angry mobs shouting “Go to hell, Israel” while burning Israeli flags (Antara News Agency [Jakarta], January 8). An unlucky KFC outlet in Central Sulawesi province was overrun by 300 protesters enraged over US support for Israel, who fortunately restricted their violence to the furniture (Xinhua, January 8). Demonstrations have also occurred at Jakarta’s Egyptian and U.S. embassies.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government will be seeking re-election in April, so it is being forced to address public anger at Israel while preventing non-government players from taking actions that might be outside the national interest. According to President Yudhoyono, “I’ve talked to Middle East leaders, to the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia, to the UN Resident Coordinator in Indonesia…and [the conclusion is] additional weaponry, bombs, rockets, tanks, or air power are not what the Gazans need” (Jakarta Post, January 17). The government views financial and humanitarian aid as the best way to help the Palestinians of Gaza, though there are many in Indonesia who would prefer to see more material military assistance sent from Indonesia to pursue “jihad” against Israel for its actions in Gaza.

Indonesia’s Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia –TNI) already have a peacekeeping unit of 210 soldiers deployed in Lebanon as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). TNI chief General Djoko Santoso has indicated Indonesia is ready to contribute to another peacekeeping force in Gaza if required (Antara, January 12).

There are a number of Indonesian Islamist groups seeking government support to send fighters to Gaza, including the Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam – FPI) and Hizb ut-Tahir Indonesia (HTI). In Bandung, West Java, the FPI is providing physical, military, and mental training to 40 recruits in a factory (Jakarta Post, January 16). In the Jember region of East Java, the organization says it has recruited 60 Muslim youth for front-line service against Israel (Jakarta Post, January 7). The recruits are receiving a brief period of training in the methods of Pencak Silat, a traditional Indonesian martial arts movement strongly associated with anti-colonialism. The FPI claims to have 4,000 volunteers for service in Gaza, but can only afford to send three to five fighters, who will receive a perfunctory ten days of instruction, though weapons training is not part of the curriculum: "We won’t be teaching them how to use weapons. They will have to learn in the field when we dispatch them to Gaza” (AFP, January 8). The Mosque Youth Coordination Body claims to have recruited 3,500 volunteers to either fight or provide humanitarian assistance, though it estimates only half of these will actually go to Gaza (AFP, January 8).

Abu Bakar Bashir’s Jamaah Anshoru Tauhid (JAT) movement expressed hope that Egypt would allow passage of mujahideen and medical teams through Rafah into Gaza (AFP, January 7). Bashir is the former spiritual leader of Indonesia’s notorious Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organization.

The Ansor Brigades paramilitary, belonging to Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama, is also training 78 volunteers for Gaza. Candidates need bring only a letter from their family and a health certificate. All expenses must be handled by the volunteer. Recruits are encouraged to develop spiritual powers that will allow them to fend off Israeli bullets and other weapons. The rival FPI eschews such traditional methods in their own training: “There is no immunity in the FPI. If we learn about such practices, how can we die a martyr?” Military strategy is taught to the Ansor recruits, but no weapons training is offered. The program has not been approved by Nahdlatul Ulama headquarters (Tempo [Jakarta], January 15).