n Tahseen Quereshi The role of any intelligence agency is to safeguard the nations interest by keeping an eye on the enemys intelligence agencies and subversive elements that are out to harm the country. Never has there been a strong and viable state that is devoid of an effective and efficient state security apparatus to know about the intrigues and conspiracies going on against it. The most ancient book on statecraft, titled Artha Shaster by Vishnugupta written in 400 BC, emphasises the need for a state security agency and discusses the matter in minute details. Against this backdrop, Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency is a national institution and its task is no different from that of its counterparts in other countries. The ISI has never been a source of target by any internal or external agency (except Indias RAW) prior to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. However, when Pakistan decided to cooperate with the US in its policy of containment against Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan, the ISI played a crucial role in mobilising the mujahideens to wage war against the Red Army, which culminated in Russias defeat in 1989. This gave birth to new geopolitical developments in the South Asia region like the end of the Cold War. The US abandoned the region leaving Pakistan to deal with the poverty-stricken people, who underwent the rigours of the Afghan war, encouraging India to a smear campaign against Pakistan accusing the ISI of turning these jobless mujahideens into cross-border terrorists in Kashmir; and alleging its support for the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan accused for attacking the US and NATO forces. These developments led to both internal and external criticism against the ISI, making the US administration to question Pakistan's commitment in combating the Taliban remnants in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Nonetheless, whether it is bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008, Mumbai attacks or Kashmiri youths uprising, convincing evidence has always been lacking to support allegations against the ISI. On the domestic front, the ISI has also been a target of immense criticism. Firstly, successive governments have been using the ISI against each other to serve their own interests. Secondly, its support of the states policies has been vociferously targeted like the issue of missing persons, drone attacks, the judges issue, etc. At times the media too has not supported the intelligence agency. For example, the local as well as the international media has openly questioned about ISIs sincerity towards the so-called US war of terror. Have we ever seen this being done with the CIA in America, MOSSAD in Israel, and RAW in India? Then why does this happen in Pakistan? Already Pakistan has to brace one blow after another. We are surrounded with more enemies than friends. Meanwhile, to draw publicity or political mileage, some politicians and pseudo-intellectuals keep harping on a negative propaganda of the ISI. This is totally unwarranted and inadvertently strengthens the hands of anti-Pakistan forces. They should focus more on the resolution of the challenges faced by the masses. The ISI has always risen to occasion without losing sight of its constitutional obligations. Although controversies continue to plague it, yet it continues to battle the forces of evil. It has saved Pakistan on many an occasion, fighting terrorism in the tribal areas, safeguarding nuclear scientists, tracking anti-Pakistan activities by foreign and locally hired agents, etc. Moreover, the ISI has made invaluable contributions to combating Al-Qaeda over the past eight years. Without the intelligence furnished by the ISI and our security services, the Afghan war would have been disastrous for the US and NATO forces. The ISI has a large input in whatever success they have achieved in Afghanistan. Washington recognises and appreciates the sacrifices made by the intelligence agency in these areas; this is only because the ISI has acquired a reputation of safeguarding Pakistans interest and national security inside and outside its borders. Indeed, the people of Pakistan owe their gratitude to the ISI for making the area safe and secure for the generations to come. Nevertheless, the Abbottabad incident in which Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by the US Navy SEALs is an intelligence failure. However, the media while targeting ISIs shortcoming in developing intelligence on Osamas presence in Pakistan, highlighted that its achievements against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks in Pakistan have no parallel. It is quite satisfying that around 100 top level Al-Qaeda leaders/operators have either been killed or arrested by the ISI, with or without CIAs support. As far as Osamas case is concerned, while the CIA developed intelligence based on initial information that was provided by the ISI, it did not share further development of intelligence with it, contradicting the existing practice between the two agencies. Nonetheless, a violation of sovereignty of Pakistan will warrant a review of the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the US. Apart from this isolated incident, the ISI is considered to be a citadel of guarding Pakistans ideological frontiers. In a nutshell, it has proved to be the first line of defence against all internal and external threats. n The writer is a freelance columnist.