By Shaheen Sehbai
WASHINGTON: The politically ill-advised developments in Islamabad to take over control of the otherwise notorious ISI are deeply linked to Prime Minister Gilani’s US visit, as the most painful and probably the only sticking point in his talks with the Bush administration would be the role of Pakistani agencies inside Afghanistan, Fata and against the US interests.
Informed members of the PM’s entourage, who have arrived in advance, privately say Gilani will be put on the spot in some of his top-level meetings, confronted with evidence that some out-of-control parts of the Pakistani agencies, either with or without Islamabad’s nod, were working at odds with the US goals and this has to be curbed by the political government if it wants generous economic and political support from Washington and even its allies and friends, including Saudi Arabia.
Pakistani diplomats are confident that while the visit will sail through without hitch, the issue of controlling the undesirable role of the agencies will be too hot to handle for an inexperienced prime minister. Thus, he was more than eager to take some decision on who would control the ISI before landing at the Andrews Air Force Base on the outskirts of Washington at 12:30 am Monday morning (Pakistan Standard Time).
The US side is prepared with all kinds of evidence, videos, audios plus transcripts to show Gilani that his agencies were playing double games in seriously stopping the terrorists inside Pakistan from operating freely. One such example to quote is the press conference addressed by Baitullah Mehsud with dozens of journalists travelling inside Fata to secret locations which, the US side claims, could never have remained secret from the vigilant Pakistani agencies. But if a terrorist can call and address a news conference with all TV and media presence in full force, there is no excuse for the agencies not to know where he was located.
The Pakistani side is also preparing its own counter arguments claiming that if the US can immediately track down the voice of Baitullah Mehsud, within hours after Benazir Bhutto’s murder claiming responsibility for the heinous act, why could they not track down and share the information with Pakistan on the whereabouts of the militant leader so that Pakistan could act in real time.
But all these arguments bring into sharp focus the role of the agencies and by ordering that, henceforth, the ISI would be controlled by the interior ministry, Gilani was trying to arm himself with talking points to assure the Americans that he was serious in dealing with the situation and should be given time and support to handle what has been a long and ongoing notorious operation without any civilian political oversight.
Yet the manner in which Gilani and even Asif Ali Zardari handled the matter so casually and without deep thought has now caused not only a public embarrassment for the prime minister, even before he landed on the US soil, but he will be hard pressed to avoid the gazing looks of uniformed US generals when they seek answers to their pointed questions.
Both Pakistani and US sides preparing for these serious discussions are deeply skeptical of the role of some of the Pakistani leaders, specially the over-zealous interior ministry bosses, in misleading and misguiding their own leadership as well as the people and the media on how and why the sensitive ISI affair was handled.
Rehman Malik has repeatedly said on Pakistani TV channels that the president, the Army chief, the prime minister and Asif Ali Zardari were not only consulted but had agreed to the change of command of the ISI but each of these players, importantly the presidency and the GHQ, have said categorically that they were not on board. So, Malik has to do a lot of explaining on what was going on and why he was making misleading claims.
It is not the first time that Malik has been acting in such an arbitrary manner and his action of postponing the by-elections without consulting anyone, a decision which had to be reversed, was a similar attempt at exercising power that did not exist in the manner he wanted to use it.
The cryptic remarks of some of the military people made to important journalists about imagining a situation in which the ISI would be run by Malik indicate the level of mistrust and contempt about some of the unelected leaders in the PPP government. But they are thriving and it is a deepening mystery why.
So when Prime Minister Gilani lands in Washington, he will not only have to worry about what he will face in meetings with the US leaders but will also have to prepare some convincing explanations for his own party leader, who is believed to have already reprimanded the PM for not being able to comprehend the seriousness and sensitivity of the decision that he took and caused a huge backfire.
Source: The News, 28/7/2008