A Case for Coherence as Analytical Tool: ISI’s Use of Taliban and Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

Publication Date01 December 2019
AuthorChayanika Saxena
Date01 December 2019
Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge, Singapore.
Corresponding author:
Chayanika Saxena, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore AS2,
#03-01, 1 Arts Link, Kent Ridge, Singapore 117570, Singapore.
E-mail: chayanika.saxena11@gmail.com
A Case for
Coherence as
Analytical Tool:
ISI’s Use of
Taliban and
Foreign Policy
Chayanika Saxena1
Coherence as a quality demonstrates logic, consistency, and unity
between thought and action to create a unified whole. By extension,
the testing of foreign policy coherence involves the evaluation of the
congruence or divergence between the intended/expected and actual
outcomes. This use of coherence as a diagnostic tool sees foreign policy
as a product. While the testing of coherence using foreign-policy-as-a-
product template gives us necessary clues about the implementation
of a foreign policy, coherence can also serve as an analytical tool to
provide us information about how the same policy came about in the
first place. That is, coherence can also be used to evaluate foreign policy
as a process. Using the case study of Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI)
use of Taliban, this article will show that in evaluating the coherence of
this policy, we can work our way backward to establish a genealogy of
Pakistan’s foreign policy on the whole.
Foreign policy, ISI, Pakistan, Taliban, coherence, genealogy
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
23(2) 121–141, 2019
2019 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0973598419843386
122 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 23(2)
The ambit of foreign policy is extremely dense and complex. Replete
with diverging interests and competing actors, foreign policy, both as a
process and product, is subject to a variety of pressures that may
ultimately affect its coherence. The intuitive connection that is drawn
between unity and efficacy expects any actor to “speak with a single
voice” (da Conceição-Heldt and Meunier 2014). However, the lack of
unity may not always be detrimental (Putnam 1988). In fact, the disag-
gregated nature of an actor could be used as a bargaining chip, as we
shall see in the case of Pakistan, and an opportunity to pursue contra-
dictory policies (Davis 2000) at the same time.
A “state within a state” (Khan and Khan 2011), the role of Inter-
Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan can be mentioned in this regard.
Running parallel to the civilian government, which is ordinarily respon-
sible for foreign policymaking, the nexus between the Pakistani Army
and ISI, collectively known as the establishment (Cohen 2006; Yusuf
2012), has usurped political power to decide on matters pertaining to
Pakistan’s national interests.
It is known that as Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, ISI, has
been a significant determinant of the countrys foreign policy both in
thought and action. Its role in what came to be known as “special opera-
tions” (Cohen 2006: 105), that is, the jihad against the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan (1979–1989), was particularly significant in determining
not only the course of the struggle but also its aftermath. Linking the
survival of Pakistan to the quest for a pliable regime across the Durand
Line informed much of the establishment’s thinking, prompting ISI to
help install friendly powers in Afghanistan, resulting in the creation of
and support to the Afghan Taliban (hereafter Taliban).
What was primarily a Benazir Bhutto-led civilian government’s
brainchild (Ahmed 2012), Taliban became the blue-eyed boy of ISI by
1996. This push-over attitude of ISI transformed what could have been
Bhutto’s claim to power in Pakistan’s foreign affairs into a product run
entirely by the intelligence agency and through it by the establishment.
Indeed, to this date, Taliban is governed by the diktats of ISI; a fact that
became evident as the then President General Pervez Musharraf feared a
backlash from ISI as he decided to join USA’s global war on terror
(Frontline 2006).

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