Pakistan’s ISI comes under spotlight at the Book Festival

Author Kamila Shamsie and the Guardian’s foreign correspondent Declan Walsh discussed the current state of Pakistan today at the Book Festival in one of a series of events examining Revolution in the 21st Century, the theme for this year’s Festival.

In an event chaired by Guest Selector Allan Little, the two writers discussed a range of topics including the role of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in harbouring Osama Bin Laden. “I wasn’t surprised when I heard that he was in Pakistan” said Shamsie, with Walsh commenting that certainly Bin Laden had “some sort of support network” inside Pakistan, and that the tribal hills of Pakistan were now Al-Qaeda’s HQ. “The ISI is Pakistan’s most important lever of power, when not shooting a gun,” said Walsh, who went on to say that the agency also acts to “implement foreign policy”

Discussing the stability of the country Shamsie joked, “We had our revolution four years ago – didn’t you notice?” but admitted that “I don’t stay up at night worrying abut an Islamic revolution” with both authors agreeing that a division in the Army would be the biggest concern, describing the institution as a ‘state within a state.’

When asked by Little if at times Pakistan had similarities with East Germany with neighbours informing to the state, Shamsie replied ‘yes’, but then went on to say that the ISI were not all knowing but did create a feeling of paranoia amongst many people.

Tomorrow at the Book Festival, leading Chinese academic Wang Hui and scholar Robert Bickers will be joined by author Chan Koonchung to debate the possibility of a political, social and technological revolution in China in the context of the Arab Spring, in an event chaired by Allan Little.

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