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…]