Editorial: Redirecting the ISI?

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters in Multan on Sunday that the “political wing” of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been disbanded. He then added the stock sentence: “The ISI is a precious national institution and wants to focus on counterterrorism activities”. There is hardly any leading politician in the country who will mourn the alleged demise of the so-called internal political wing of the ISI. And the PPP has the most reason not to mourn it because it was the most targeted party under the “wing” since it was ousted from power by General Zia in 1977.

The last time the PPP tried to make changes in the ISI was some months ago when orders subordinating it to the Interior Ministry had to be hurriedly rescinded on the ground of some “misunderstanding” in drafting the relevant notification. Presumably, the abolishment of the internal political wing of the ISI would be the next best thing if it could get it in the circumstances. But has this really happened? Is Mr Qureshi levelling with us? We are not convinced.

Intelligence regarding terrorist attacks is bad. Even after it was let known that a certain number of suicide-bombers had left for the big cities, further action could not be taken because of lack of follow-through. The political wing was another name for “dirty tricks” which the rulers used. But there is no reason here to blame the ISI for having the “wing”. It was created by a civilian politician to keep tabs on what opposition politicians were doing. There was no “analysis” to speak of: there was intimidation and some “incidents” that the victims openly attributed to the ISI. When some politicians of high political ranking had their cars burned mysteriously, they lost no time in blaming the ISI for it. One “political wing” gang was caught trying to overthrow the reigning PPP government in a covert operation in 1989 ominously named Midnight Jackals.

After General Zia had given the ISI its orientation, it became difficult for succeeding civilian governments to control its officers. The PPP in 1988 tried to appoint its own choice of a general to the top job but found that its director general was hardly acceptable to the rank and file. That has continued since then. Fired ISI chiefs have boasted their lingering hold on the organisation while appointed chiefs keep swearing that the organisation is obedient to them. After leaving the top job some generals don’t mind dabbling in politics, clearly showing their bias in retrospect. One ISI chief actually created a political alliance against the PPP and today inspires the jihadi-religious elements. Another chief is informally leading the mammoth congregation of Deobandi Islam from where most of the banned jihadi organisations are drawn. Another has a case pending at the Supreme Court for handing out cash to politicians to affect the results of the 1990 elections. The “political wing” was also busy preparing grounds for victories in elections held by General Musharraf in 2002. Those who lost complained bitterly of “pre-poll” manipulations and clearly named the ISI. Yet, those who compelled the ISI to dabble in politics were finally punished by fate and the ISI could not save them.

If we want it, we can have a professional ISI. The wrong has been committed by giving the ISI — which is supposed to guard against external threats to security — a charter which undermines its professionalism. In the past, personnel were selected according to an ideological yardstick that may not be relevant any more. Many of the men who serve the ISI are still more fired by faith than intellect, which makes them vulnerable to the attraction of jihad and those who operate it. When the time comes to choose between the state and the people they have been handling, they tend to reveal clear signs of “reverse-indoctrination”. There are also retired ISI officials denouncing the state in public under the pretext of “human rights”.

We are at a crossroads as far as the task of intelligence is concerned. The old parameters are all gone, as was revealed by the incident of Lal Masjid which was partly responsible for bringing down the rule of General Musharraf. He kept on swearing that he had purged the ISI and brought it in line with his new objectives, but as the incident unfolded, it was revealed that there were divisions within that undermined the operation when it was finally ordered by him. Later on, once again, his assurances were belied when Ms Benazir Bhutto started receiving “inside” information on his real intent after her “reconciliation” with him.

If one uses an intelligence agency for political purposes, this is what one gets. So, if the news as given out by Shah Mahmood Qureshi is true, ISI professionals themselves must be relieved that they will no longer be required to use “dirty tricks” for politicians and will have the time and energy to serve the nation by securing it against external threats. The big challenge is terrorism. It has to be tracked objectively without political bogeys attached as an interpretive tool. *

Second Editorial: Qazi Sahib gets the limelight

Just as President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani were conferring about what to do about CIA drones attacking inside Pakistan, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, chief of the Jama’at-e Islami, addressed a jirga in Peshawar saying his party will block all supplies going to the NATO forces through Pakistan. He said his men will block all routes from Karachi to Torkham to prevent the 800 or so trucks that pass through to Afghanistan daily.

Qazi Sahib has upped the ante and can no longer wait for the PMLN to move forward on the judges’ issue to bring about the change he wants. He told the audience in Peshawar that “Uzbeks, Arabs and other Muslims in the Tribal Areas are our brothers, and Al Qaeda and Taliban are not against Pakistan and its nuclear programme”. By saying so he has placed himself at the head of the political elements that oppose military operations against the terrorists and has thus once again raised the profile of his party after breaking away from the JUI in the clerical alliance of 2002. It is a part of his “revolutionary” personality that he doesn’t allow his party to leave the political limelight. *

November 25, 2008

Source: Daily Times

By Editor

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