Filed Under MEDIA COMMENTARIES
ISLAMABAD: Is the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), Pakistan’s elite intelligence agency, in the line of fire? In its latest ruling the Supreme Court adjudged the ISI’s political cell as illegal ‘void ab initio’ — that is, null and void from the start whether it existed presently or not. This order was a consequence to the government’s inability to produce any notification under which the much talked about political wing of the ISI was allegedly established in 1975 during then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rule.
It is not possible that the so-called political cell was created without a gazette notification or even government instructions that would include scope of its political involvement. Was any such document deliberately not presented before SC, as it would confirm the PPP’s culpability for institutionalising ISI’s meddling in domestic politics? Will the absence of such documents not make it difficult for former director generals of ISI to justify distribution of funds amongst politicians or engineering political alliances?
Perhaps PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar’s draft ISI bill that he reportedly withdrew without tabling it in the Senate had far-reaching ramifications for the ISI’s future. But why this sudden retreat? Although submitted by the worthy senator as a private member, did it not have the tacit blessings of the Presidency? Were the contents too controversial or even objectionable for the bill to get a smooth passage in the parliament? Under the garb of bringing the ISI under greater civilian control, was this bill aimed at defanging Pakistan’s premier intelligence setup?
While the ISI is an independent entity not under command of the army, it draws its strength from the three services, especially the army which provides the bulk of intelligence manpower. Although the DG ISI is technically mandated to report to the prime minister, he does coordinate national security matters with the army chief in particular.
The PPP seems somewhat obsessed with the ISI’s takeover with Senator Babar’s draft bill being perhaps the fourth such recorded attempt to control the ISI.
The ISI has traditionally been headed by serving lieutenant generals whose appointments were either approved by prime minister under recommendation of or in consultation with the army chief. However, during late Benazir Bhutto’s first government in 1989, then Lt Gen (R) Shamsur Rehman Kallu, considered close to the PPP, was appointed the DG ISI. This experiment failed to yield the desired results as the retired general was known to have experienced difficulties in managing the organisation and also could not develop a comfortable working relationship with the GHQ.
It may be recalled how the notification to place the ISI under administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division that was issued on July 27, 2008 was withdrawn within hours of its issuance by then PM Gilani’s government after Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s immediate intervention. It sends a chill down the spine to imagine Interior Minister Rehman Malik assuming the ISI’s control.
Was this ISI bill an extension of that vested American desire reflected in the 2009 Kerry Lugar Bill related to effective civilian control of the military and development of Pakistan’s nuclear programme? This, too, smelt of Haqqani’s anti-security establishment bias. Not surprisingly, the ISPR’s unusual press release after the Corps Commanders Conference on October 9, 2009 highlighted serious concerns of this top GHQ forum regarding the insulting clauses in the Kerry Lugar Bill, which impacted the national security.
The infamous 2011 Memorandum crafted by Husain Haqqani, PPP’s loyalist and handpicked former ambassador to the United States, also included assurance to ‘eliminate Section S of the ISI charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network’ as well as handing over intelligence officers involved in Mumbai attacks, ‘against whom sufficient evidence exists of guilt, to the Indian security services’.
In Senator Babar’s view a civil servant is qualified to hold the position of DG ISI. It is incomprehensible how a serving or retired Grade-22 bureaucrat with no background knowledge/experience of handling sensitive security matters would deal with specialised intelligence operations.
Can such a senior civil service officer ‘command’ an inter-services intelligence setup that is run by many two-star generals having under their command essentially serving armed forces officers? Would the senior civilian officer be accorded that highest security clearance to assume such a sensitive post, when even serving military officers fail to get clearance to serve in the ISI?
Effective checks and balances related to accountability as well as parliamentary oversight are necessary to keep any such organisation under effective check and control in a democratic environment. However, too much interference or excessive external intrusion would be detrimental to the organisation’s performance if its personnel were bogged down in ombudsman’s investigations of misconduct complaints, trials for misuse of authority related to offences in specially constituted tribunals, appeals before appeal boards as was intended in the draft ISI bill.
When Manual of Pakistan Military Law as well as respective Pakistan Army/Air Force/Navy Acts are available to discipline armed forces personnel serving in the ISI, then why the need for such extra legal/procedural complexities? Will it not jeopardise the ISI’s secret intelligence role if Senator Babar’s envisioned intelligence and security committee of the parliament went to the level of examining the organisation’s expenditure? Accountability of any organisation like the ISI should be more on how far it accomplished the assigned mission/goals with respect to identifying national security related threats and dealing with them effectively.
It is true that security agencies remain under criticism from the higher judiciary and certain media quarters on the ‘missing persons’ issue including human rights violations related to prolonged detention/interrogation of alleged terrorists. Certain SOPs/rules need to be framed with input from the stakeholders to streamline their functions and make them more potent. Is this the right time to reform the ISI and other intelligence organisations as they continue to fight hostile foreign forces that threaten to destabilise Pakistan and eye its nuclear arsenal? Strengthening national security institutions through positive reforms at an appropriate time and pace should be the preferred goal. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-121926-Is-the-ISI-being-defanged