The ISI really came into its own in the Zia era, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when billions of dollars in addition to weapons and munitions were passing through its hands for freedom fighters in Afghanistan
The infamous Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the ISI, is in the headlines daily. But the real question is still pending: who should it be placed under to ensure that it functions within the parameters laid down for it.The ISI’s peripheral involvement in political affairs began during the Ayub Khan era when by virtue of the rank of Field Marshal that he had bestowed upon himself, he was, in addition to the president, the commander-in-chief of all three services.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto inherited this arrangement when he took over as president in 1972. However, under the 1973 Constitution, when Pakistan returned to a parliamentary democracy, he placed the ISI directly under the prime minister. Ironically, it was in the Bhutto era that the ISI’s political role was accepted, though it was to fully mature later.
Simultaneously, apprehensive of the potential of the ISI and the possibility of split loyalties of serving generals as director-generals of the agency, Bhutto also created the FIA. The FIA was to be his strong arm, the one that would unquestioningly humiliate such respected personalities as J A Rahim, a founding member of Bhutto’s own PPP.
The ISI really came into its own in the Zia era, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when billions of dollars in addition to weapons and munitions were passing through its hands for freedom fighters in Afghanistan. The US tacitly accepted that both monies and weapons/munitions were being funnelled by the ISI for its own purposes. The monies were later used to help create political parties like Nawaz Sharif’s IJI and the MQM; and both assisted General Beg to fund the indigenous insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir at a time when Benazir Bhutto’s first government strictly forbade this policy.
In fact, during the period of the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Foreign Office virtually became a post office. Since the Afghan policy had precedence over all other policies, all foreign policy was dictated by or, at the very least, approved by the Afghan cell in the ISI.
When Pakistan decided to reverse its Afghan policy, there is little doubt that this reversal did not receive the wholehearted support of Taliban supporters in the ISI, including the DG, General Mahmood. Similarly our decision to end our support to the Kashmiri struggle in 2003 also did not receive unquestioned support from within the ISI, and most of General Ehsan’s tenure in the ISI was spent purging it of dissident elements.
If (and it’s a huge if) we were to accept the accusation that the ISI was responsible for the attack on the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, there could only be one of two explanations: a) a tit-for-tat response to the Indians who are undoubtedly involved in furthering unrest in Balochistan — unlike our president, I am only 99 percent certain of it — in which case it would have government sanction, but not only does it make no political sense to undertake such an operation when the prime minister is about to make his maiden visit to the US, the establishment’s reaction(s) only reconfirm the unlikelihood of this possibility; or b) there are rogue elements intent on further destabilising this already unstable government.
In the latter eventuality, only one individual stands to gain from further destabilising this government: Pervez Musharraf. It is amazing that after five months of coming into power, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have finally agreed to get rid of Musharraf but no one has seen fit to replace his appointee as DG ISI, Nadeem Taj, who is a known Musharraf loyalist.
The ISI was, idiotically, placed under the Interior Ministry on the eve of the PM’s departure for an official visit to the US. That this came in the wake of American assertions (without providing substantive evidence) that the ISI was responsible for the Kabul blast indicates that it was, most likely, intended to appease the American accusers, but again without changing the DG.
How would the ISI be reigned in by the Interior Ministry if the PM cannot do so? This is the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate; while each service — the army, navy, and the air force — has its own internal intelligence organisations focusing on the threat to their respective service, the ISI is primarily intended to provide a comprehensive threat assessment for the nation as a whole, whether the threat emanates from across the borders or, as is becoming increasingly important, domestically. This assessment is not solely military, but multi-dimensional, including economic, diplomatic, or any other kind of threats. It is also intended to undertake approved covert operations.
If there are apprehensions regarding its performance or loyalty to the government, find a new DG, make him answerable for each act of an ISI employee, let him pick his own team of immediate subordinates, and authorise him to initiate punitive action against any subordinate who undertakes an unauthorised covert operation.
I will again recommend that it be placed under the JCSC, whose Chairman is the adviser to the government on all military matters; if that is done, then instead of the DG ISI, the CJCSC should be held accountable for every act of the agency. In addition, it will be the joint duty of the CJCSC and the DG ISI to ensure that the country’s chief executive and all those members of the cabinet that he wishes to include in the briefing are periodically updated on threat assessment and on the progress of any covert actions approved by the PM/CE. The IB and the FIA should suffice to provide sufficient intelligence information to the PM/CE through the Interior Ministry.
The knee-jerk reaction of our present government only reaffirms the incompetence of our current rudderless political set-up.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). This article is a modified version of one originally written for The National
Source: Daily Times, 9/8/2008