One interesting byproduct of the ongoing trial of Tahawwur Rana is the additional information that is emerging about the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan’s military intelligence service known as the ISI. Rana is the Canadian citizen who is on trial in the US for his role in the 2008 terror assault on Mumbai, India. His accomplice, David Coleman Headley, has decided to testify against Rana and in so doing has exposed the ISI’s role in spreading terror throughout the world.
This report from The Times of India [republished in full] provides excellent details of the ISI’s “S Wing,” the division of the notorious intelligence service that liaises and directs terror organizations on the subcontinent. The existence of the ISI’s S Wing has been known for some time [see these reports from The Guardian and The New York Times back in the summer of 2009].
The secretive S Wing of ISI is under fresh scrutiny in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing and the ongoing trial of Tahawwur Rana in Chicago where David Headley has narrated in detail ISI’s role in the Mumbai attacks.
The ISI’s involvement and planning for Mumbai attacks would have been handled by the S Wing, sources here said.
ISI coordinates all its work with terrorist groups through S Wing, a secretive, powerful and probably dispersed network that includes a number of retired military personnel. The S Wing may have “hundreds of retired military officers and terror leaders” on its rolls, said a senior official. “All that we know about ISI may not fully explain this monster,” he said of ISI and its S Wing.
The official speculated that even some very senior retired military officers who are active in the Track 2 circuit may be associated with the S Wing. “When you really look at the reach of their work, then it is clear that it is an operation with great depth and wide reach,” he said of S Wing.
Headley has outlined in the Chicago court, where he is the prosecution witness in Rana’s trial, about his extensive training and financial support from ISI. He was being handled by one Major Iqbal. Indian sources are convinced that the major is part of the S Wing.
“We have known about its (S Wing) existence for several years. It took shape probably in the 80s, and from then on it has grown in size and strength,” a former intelligence officer said, adding that the entire operation of Kashmir militancy through the past 20 years was handled by this Wing.
S Wing also handles Taliban and al-Qaida, sources said. Most Indian officers are convinced that Osama was being sheltered by select officers of S Wing.
Taliban has been S Wing’s most stunning achievement — grooming youngsters from refugee camps and madrassas to become fighters who took over Afghanistan. Colonel Imam, a legendary ISI operative who trained Mullah Omar and played a significant role in the Taliban raid into Kabul, may have been part of this S Wing, an Indian official said.
He argued that S Wing, or whatever new name it now has, is “steeped in Islamic ideologies imparted during Zia-ul-Haq’s time, and most of them are fanatics”. If ISI had to metamorphose from its present state of being a semi-criminal enterprise into a modern intelligence agency, then it would have to begin with the S Wing, said officials.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.