Role of Intelligence Agencies in Pakistan

Agencies ruling the roost since Oct 1999
By Tariq Butt: The NEws, June 26, 2007

ISLAMABAD: Who runs the government that rules Pakistan since October 2002? Civilians, they say. But who will believe it?

All principal decisions taken since October 1999 and after the restoration of democracy of a unique nature, special to Pakistan, in October 2002 throw up the role of premier intelligence agencies and their chiefs as the solitary decisive factor.

This mighty state structure had little dominant role in the decision-making process when Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto had ruled twice each. Then, the involvement of the federal cabinet and the ruling party, obviously comprising civilians alone, was ensured, maybe at times to a limited extent. The “kitchen cabinets”, of the two prime ministers, consisting of small bands of their confidantes, used to take vital decisions.

But for three years from 1999 to 2002 and after the last general elections, the intelligence agencies had performed an unquestionable overriding role in every major decision the government has taken. The process of consultations has been too restricted and the participation of the civilian stakeholders of the dispensation has been absent.

The role of the spymasters in dropping the latest bombshell — filing of a reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry — that took the nation by storm and shook President Pervez Musharraf and the entire applecart he is leading, was extremely critical and beyond an iota of doubt. The reliance of the present top man, like his uniformed predecessors, on the intelligence agencies has been immense and plays the most singular role in his decision-making. It is through the intelligence work that he gets the job done and relies on the conclusions of the spymasters.

The Military Intelligence (MI) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are directly answerable to Musharraf by virtue of his position as chief of the Army staff. There had been several instances when the ISI had not been properly reporting to previous prime ministers, who had publicly complained to the effect more than once. Benazir Bhutto’s successful attempt to have her choice nominee as ISI chief was not of much help to her as the agency hardly cooperated to the extent she had desired. Lt-Gen (retd) Hamid Gul, as ISI chief, during her tenure, used to boldly speak against the prime minister of the day.

The intelligence agencies’ role did not end with the creation of the judicial mess. They had been very active in the damage control exercise so that the crisis turns out to be favourable to the boss at the end of the day. Hardly any member of the civilian setup has been trusted as being capable of stemming the erosion at the public level.

Another a huge decision in which no member of the civilian dispensation had any role whatsoever related to the handling of eminent nuclear scientist, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. After Musharraf was shown the allegedly illegal activities of the Pakistani hero in 2003, it all has been an intelligence agencies’ affair.

There has also been no civilian involvement of even a minor nature in the anti-terror campaign even after the restoration of “democracy.” It is a Pakistan army affair, being carried out by the support of the intelligence agencies. Even elected representatives become aware of sketchy details of operations when these are made public mostly by foreign media. However, credit goes to the ruling MPs that they have never put any questions.

Sometimes, successive prime ministers had been under tremendous pressure from their MPs on certain policy matters. It also happened that the premiers had to cancel their decisions after they found great resistance from their parliamentary parties. An apt example was Nawaz Sharif’s retreat when he had firmed up his plan to enforce Shariah to become a kind of Amirul Momineen. Khurshid Kasuri, then affiliated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), was one of the vocal opponents of his prime minister’s decision. Nawaz Sharif not only heard, though angrily, Kasuri’s hard-hitting outburst, but also had not expelled him from the party.

Had the intelligence agencies not worked hard as they did prior to the October 2002 general elections, formation of the king’s party (Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain-led PML) would have remained a mere unfulfilled dream. The agencies, comprehensively aided by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), midwife the PML that won the next elections and which is ruling since then. Creation of this party was no doubt beyond the capacity, power and capability of any politician, siding with the Musharraf government.

It was none but the intelligence agencies that single-handedly handled Nawaz Sharif’s departure into exile in December 2000. But at that time, there was pure military rule. Tackling of the yearlong forceful campaign run by Begum Kalsoom Nawaz including the lifting of her car in the air to stop her from leading a procession from Lahore to Peshawar was also solely dealt with by the intelligence agencies.

But even after the restoration of democracy, especially suiting Pakistan, secret talks are being conducted mainly by intelligence officials to work out a deal. The civilian government and the ruling coalition are not aware of the precise details of the now on, now off dialogue. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is not a person, who has the habit of grudging or complaining. He is content with the room he has been provided to operate.

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