The ISI, Pakistan’s notorious and feared spy agency, comes in from the cold

The ISI, Pakistan’s notorious and feared spy agency, comes in from the cold

The entrance is suitably discreet: a single barrier near a small hospital off a busy Islamabad highway. Bougainvillea spills over long walls with barbed wire; a plain-clothes man packing a pistol questions visitors. Further along, soldiers emerge to check for bombs.

Then a giant electric gate slides back to reveal a sleek grey building that would not look out of place on a California technology campus. With one difference: nothing is signposted.

Welcome to the headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s premier spy agency. Powerful and notorious in equal measure, for decades the ISI has operated behind a dense veil of secrecy, impervious to allegations of election rigging, terrorist training, abduction and assassination. Many Pakistanis call it the “state within a state”.

Now, though, the ISI is coming in from the cold. Over the past year the agency has invited a stream of western journalists into its swish, modern nerve centre. Over tea and PowerPoint briefings, spies give details of some of Pakistan’s most sensitive issues – the Taliban insurgency, the hunt for al-Qaida, the troubled relationship with India. [continued…]

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