Why the ISI didn’t move-By M A Niazi

When the government decided on something as routine as the transfer of control of two independent organisations to a regularly-constituted federal division, not only was the decision held back till the prime minister, whose department was giving up control, and the Prime Minister’s adviser in charge of the interior ministry, who was taking control, were both in London en route to Washington, but the president had to be informed.
Even then, the president was able to locate the prime minister, and have the decision reversed with respect to one agency, which has always stood for the view that it is a military organisation, that has nothing to do with civilians, even if it has been placed under the PM’s control some time ago. However, there has been a military ruler for so much of this period, that this agency is quite likely to be confused about the chains of command.
At present, the prime minister cannot get rid of the Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence without the involvement of the COAS in the naming of the new DG, who should be a serving lieutenant-general. Yet ISI is basically a civilian organisation, with as much as 80 percent of its personnel never having served in the military, but directly recruited into the ISI. With an estimated 25,000 employees and assets, the ISI can absorb a lot of civilian officials.
Both the president and the prime minister are concerned about the intelligence agencies because they both see agency support as crucial to remaining in power. Only Americans (and allies) see the agencies (specifically the ISI) to be crucial to the War On Terror, only the US president went to the extent of presenting the Pakistani PM evidence of ISI involvement with the Afghan resistance. During the Afghan jihad, the presentation of evidence was reserved only for Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
The ISI is accused by the Americans of helping the Afghan resistance groups targeting the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and of winning their support, so that the continued American involvement there would also mean continued American support for Pakistan.
Apparently, the American solution is to unify the intelligence agencies involved in one place, much as the USA itself deployed all related organisations in the Department of Homeland Security. If the deployment as envisaged had gone through, the Department would have had one interlocutor, rather than several, as at present.
As it is, placing ISI and IB under Interior Division was inane, since both agencies were already under the prime minister, and all that would have happened was that Yousuf Raza Gilani would have been replaced by Rehman Malik, who is PM’s adviser, not a full-fledged minister. There have been a number of objections raised to Rehman Malik personally, as if there was some personal objection that certain officers, probably in the ISI, had to serve under Rehman Malik. But that is no reason to prevent an entire organisation from shifting.
After all, before either the PPP or the PML-Q was the IJI or the PML-N, and the interior minister was always Ch Shujaat Hussain. This re-assignment has very little to do with Rehman Malik or the officers currently in the ISI, because it means that every interior minister will be the direct boss of the ISI, not just the present one.
The Intelligence Bureau is not known to have reacted similarly, probably because the police officers who man it had no one to appeal to against Rehman Malik, unlike the army officers who are in the ISI, especially in its upper echelons. As a result, the IB has not been privileged to escape the Interior Division, where it will tolerate Rehman Malik.
The president did not intervene and save the ISI merely out of a fellow feeling for the officers, but to benefit himself. As it is, military men get assignments to the ISI only when they are sent there by the Military Secretary’s Branch, and they make sure that GHQ is informed that all the ISI is doing. Because of this, the COAS exerts a control he is not supposed to have over the ISI.

The IB and the ISI have to some extent overlapping charters of duties. It is almost impossible to over-emphasise the importance of the charter in an intelligence organisation: it not only prescribes what the organisation is supposed to do, but how it is to do it.
IB and ISI are very often seen as rivals because of the similarity in charters, and military governments have used both extensively to bolster their rule. The loyalty of the military men, including the director general, to the COAS is because of the control he has over the MS Branch, which will determine how they fare when they return from their current posting.
Additionally, a lot of military men go to the ISI just before retirement (last posting), and the MS Branch determines what post-retirement life is worth, unless (as is very unlikely) the officer is independently very, very wealthy. They are thus careful to do not just what they are told, but what they think would make them stand out. Translated into normal terms, the ISI is trusted by the COAS in a way that IB is not. Therefore, when Ziaul Haq had to pick an agency to run the Afghan operation, including arms supply from the CIA, it was almost inevitable that he would pick the ISI. That was the reason for its virtually unprecedented expansion during the Afghan jihad, but it really established its efficacy in domestic politics then, though it had been given a role in that during the Ayub era, which came soon after its founding, which was because there had been inefficient coordination of intelligence about India during the 1949 War on Kashmir with India. The ISI has its man in most constituencies, and this is a cross-party thing, which will be shown on any vote on the president. Those MNAs with links to the ISI will not vote against the president.
The ISI has always risen to the occasion whenever called by a military ruler. Therefore, the ISI was called by the president over Afghanistan, and it has not failed him. As in the Afghan Jihad, the ISI has obeyed the president rather than the PPP government in order to extract more American dollars. Shifting the department to a federal government was meant to save the American taxpayer some money. However, as a result, the president was to lose his ability to make the running in our domestic politics, or have that ability reduced. That was not on, so it didn’t happen.
E-mail: maniazi@nation.com.pk

Source: The Nation, 1/8/2008

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