Governance by stealth? —Ejaz Haider

The ISI’s main brief is external intelligence. Why would anyone place such an organisation under the Interior Division? The CIA does not report to Homeland Security; neither does MI6 report to the Home Office
Here’s a government that takes a major decision fraught with consequences without any debate and announces it just as its head, the prime minister, has left the country on his first official tour of the United States. Then, early morning Sunday, after the media has reported its first decision, it reverses it by calling the earlier one a misunderstanding.

If this is a joke, it’s in poor taste and no one is laughing.

Late Saturday night the Press Information Department pushed out a five-line memorandum which said that the country’s two premier intelligence agencies, the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau, have been placed under the Interior Ministry. Period.

The PM was not available for comment; neither was his advisor on interior, both being 35000 feet over the Atlantic winging their way along with other junketeers to Washington DC.

But Mr Asif Ali Zardari was and he spake, correctly guessed, from Dubai. His explanation: the move is made to save the army from controversies and a bad name. Mr Zardari also hoped that “positive results will come out from [sic!] this historic decision”.

Historic the decision might be, but let it be said that history is full of historic follies and bad decisions. Historic and positive are not synonyms.

Mr Zardari also said that “Nobody will say that this agency is not under the control of an elected government as the Interior Ministry will be responsible for responding to allegations against the ISI.”

The scene changes: The “historic” decision, another press release tells us at 4 am, could not even survive the night. Far from being historic it was not even a one-full-night stand.

While we should rest easy that a hurried and ill-thought decision has been reversed, the inefficiency of this government raises troubling questions — especially at a time when this country needs solid men, not frolicking boys.

There are two issues here: one relates to the problem of decision-making; the other to the logic behind this decision. Consider.

Who takes decisions in this country; how are decisions taken; at what level(s) are they debated; where does input come from; what are the mechanics and mechanisms for taking decisions that have far-reaching consequences et cetera?

Different policies require different inputs. Policy levels are different, as is the nature of policies. By implication, the consequences can be, and are, different. Some bad policies can be less harmful; others can have disastrous consequences.

The reversed decision, according to the PID press release invoked Rule 3 (3) of the Rules of Business, 1973 as the justification for the PM to approve “the placement of Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence under the administrative, financial and operation control of the Interior Division with immediate effect…”.

Clearly, Rule 3 (3) cannot be invoked to justify a decision that needed to be reversed within hours. The power to take decisions, in a modern setting, cannot be assumed to be monarchical in nature. It has to be infused with legitimacy and turned into “authority” through various mechanisms, including the right and necessity by concerned experts and organisations, both within and outside the government, to debate an issue. Once such debate has taken place, the top man has the choice to make the final decision based on the debate and the consequences of various possibilities and choices.

Now to the reversal order which reads: “Notification regarding control of ISI is being misinterpreted. ISI will continue to perform its functions under the Prime Minister. The said Notification only re-emphasizes more coordination between Ministry of Interior and ISI in relation to war on terror and internal security. Details will be clarified in a comprehensive notification.”

What audacity to say that the earlier notification was being “misinterpreted”; did the Colossus from Dubai also “misinterpret” it when he called it a “historic” decision and spoke at length over how it will do this and that?

Now to the dissembling behind the earlier decision. Putting ISI under the control of Interior Division and calling it civilian control is naïve at best. In theory, the ISI has always been under civilian control, as opposed to Military, Air and Naval Intelligence agencies which are under the GHQ, Air HQ, and Naval HQ, respectively.

The anomaly lies in civil-military relations — i.e. when there is either no prime minister and a general sits atop the pyramid of power or when there is a quasi-civilian rule and the PM is too weak and the show is run by a General-President. That is a structural problem. Also, even if the ISI were placed under the Interior Division, if the army were to strike, it would still come under the overall control of a military dispensation or one of its many hybrid incarnations.

Two, the ISI’s main brief is external intelligence. Why would anyone place such an organisation under the Interior Division? The CIA does not report to Homeland Security; neither does MI6 report to the Home Office. True, the ISI has, over the years, indulged in shaping politics. But for that the agency has to be purged; plus, and this is important, every government, civilian ones included, has used it as a dirty tricks brigade. The governments are as much responsible for exploiting the IB and the ISI as these agencies are to blame for excesses. In fact, placing them under the Interior Division will exacerbate the problem rather than solving it.

Let it also be said that intelligence agencies across the world tend to be rascally and roguish. It is the flipside of the kind of work they are required to do. But steps have to be taken to create mechanisms (parliamentary oversight, for instance) which can exercise effective control over these agencies without making them lose their professional edge.

There is most definitely the need to ensure that no intelligence agency (or any other government organisation) can jump its brief. But that requires an honest appraisal of what these agencies have been doing, why, and at whose behest. Such an appraisal will require expert input from various quarters, and the debate will need to be held at multiple levels.

Decisions involving national security cannot be taken so lightly; nor can they be a function of what Dr Maleeha Lodhi aptly called “governance by stealth”.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Source: Daily Times, 28/7/2008

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