Timed to go into effect before the prime minister reached the US, the bizarre government notification at nine pm on July 26, putting both the ISI and the IB under the “administrative, financial and operational” control of the federal interior ministry was no accident, it was deliberately intended to (1) demonstrate grandly to the US while the prime minister was there that the civilian govt had “brought the ISI to heel” and (2) enhance and solidify Asif Zardari’s control over the country.
With both the ISI and the IB already reporting to the prime minister, the perception of creating “civilian control” was not simply for US consumption, the gamble was no one would react while the Pakistani PM was in the US, the inadvertent tacit US approval would have made it a fait accompli. It took only six hours for those who control the democratically elected government to see light; an urgent press release at 3am on July 27 by the Press Information Department (PID) “clarified” the notification as having been “misunderstood”.
Though questionable given the controversy about the individual concerned, putting the IB under the ministry of interior is understandable since its primary mission is internal. The ISI being Pakistan’s first line of defence against external enemies, and of this category there is no dearth. What was the logic it should report to the ministry of interior? Would the COAS ring up Section Officer Rafique (or whoever) to find out the order of battle (ORBAT) of the Indian army or the movements about its armoured divisions? Lt-Gen (r) Hamid Gul, former DG ISI, said there would be celebrations in India and Israel about the ISI’s potential being emasculated. Control of intelligence agencies by responsible democracy is necessary but this logic is superseded by doubt about the constitutional legality of unelected individuals being privy to national secrets.
Everyone wants the elected assemblies to continue, but governance must be in the hands of those who have been elected by the people. Public servants or those taking oath of office are subject to the Official Secrets Act; and even that requires further scrutiny for higher security clearance. For democracy to function legally, Asif Zardari must be elected as an MNA and become prime minister, and once he takes oath of office, his security grading will stop all such controversy.
Our enemies, as all enemies are apt to, earnestly desire our disintegration and/or Balkanisation at the very least to disarm us of our nuclear assets. There is a nexus between them and misguided extremists who have become pawns of enemy intelligence agencies with one objective and one objective alone, to put the Pakistani state under pressure by engaging the armed forces internally and bringing its image under disrepute. While many of ISI exploits are unheard and unsung, unfortunately the advance publicity about the ISI’s “political wing” creates misgivings among the citizens and tarnishes its image unnecessarily. This detracts from its primary role. The “black” propaganda is exploited by our enemies. A former DG ISI incredulously maintains that technically the ‘internal security’ division of the ISI has additional political tasks among its functions and hence that a ‘political wing’ does not even exist! What astounding logic! It surely merits in Ripley’s ‘Believe it or not’ and – jokes aside – undercuts our credibility as a state. The ‘political function’, or whatever one may technically call interference in civilian governance, must be stopped forthwith.
The ISI is usually tarred and feathered by the western media without verifying facts fed to them by hostile agencies. Increasingly more sophisticated in spreading its message, the media is an invaluable instrument in pursuing the objectives of war during times of peace. Propaganda is meant to achieve during peace what is impossible to do on the battlefield. The Christian world has many nuclear states, Israel is Jewish and nuclear, India is Hindu (despite its secular credentials) and nuclear. Why are we not offered the same nuclear deal as India, given that we are an energy-deficient country with a large population? Look at the logic and arguments denying Muslim Iran nuclear potential. The same arguments could hold good for Pakistan, being the only Muslim state having nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. We could be targeted next.
Emasculating the ISI had relevance only to personal gain, having nothing to do with national interest. This fiasco is a national “wake-up call” to save the country from being sold, literally, at bargain prices to the highest bidder. The small clique running Pakistan today on behalf of the PPP and its coalition partners could have taken this calculated risk of reining in the ISI for even commercial reasons. Considered to be the largest known reserves in the world, Thar’s coal deposits could fulfil Pakistan’s energy needs for years to come. A government delegation travelled a few weeks ago to Mumbai to get leading Indian industrial giants in energy involved in exploiting our coal reserves (there was also discussion about the sensitive telecommunication sector). The ISI must have reported adversely against pursuing any joint venture with India in this sensitive border area, and in the vital energy sector.
Trade with India is a must but on an equitable and reciprocal basis. One questions the motivation for the generosity in the recently announced one-sided India-centric trade policy. Can this large-heartedness account for why India has opened consulates in Afghanistan on our troubled western borders except to add fuel to the fire by funding and arming terrorists? And that innocent Pakistanis are dying all over the country as a result. Partially diverting strategic reserves from our eastern borders, is it a coincidence that suddenly the LoC is coming alive?
The first civilian coup was getting Benazir Bhutto’s will accepted wherein Asif Zardari and his unelected associates took control over a great national political party and seemingly turned it into a private fiefdom. A hundred days later, the next civilian coup succeeded in duping Mian Nawaz Sharif in entering into an agreement that the government had no intention of honouring. The Grand Slam of civilian coups (coincidentally after another 100 days) was designed for total control.
There would have been turmoil within the ranks if the govt had not smartly retracted from its unambiguous notification. This is a wake-up call not only for the citizens of this country but for those in uniform. This should be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. The nature of his job imposes upon the army chief an unenviable responsibility, that his presence is for the good of Pakistan.
Pervez Musharraf may be vilified for any number of reasons but no one can question his patriotism. For the sake of Pakistan one appeals to the president to correct two major blunders immediately. He should repeal the National Reconciliation Ordinance and withdraw the decision to impose a provisional constitution order on Nov 3, 2007. As for Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan and the lawyers’ community, for the sake of this country they must reciprocate by not going the route of vengeance and adjust to living with the president and those judges who took oath on the PCO. This holds true for the only nationally-electable leader left, Mian Nawaz Sharif. Whenever nations are in crisis, leaders are expected to rise above their individual agendas to secure the country’s sovereignty and integrity.
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9 .com
The News, 31/7/2008