Tables turned on intelligence agencies

Tables turned on agencies By Ansar Abbasi: The News, September 4, 2007

ISLAMABAD: Tuesday’s terrorist attack targeting Pakistan’s elite intelligence agency – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – is unique for the reason that those responsible to track down and then swoop on terror networks have themselves become the victims of saboteurs.

This sorry incident occurred at a time when the ISI chief has been involved in pure politics, negotiating with Benazir Bhutto on behalf of the president to strike a deal with her, in complete negation of his legally-assigned mandate.

The event raises the fundamental question: Are Pakistan’s intelligence agencies really focused on the very job for which they were created? Unfortunately, they are not. It is no more a secret that all the intelligence agencies, including the ISI, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and even the Military Intelligence (MI), have been used by successive rulers to serve their respective vested interests.

There is no break with such tendencies even now. As is generally expected in a pure military or an Army-led regime, the spy agencies have an extended role in politics today. Gen Musharraf’s tenure is an extremely apt example to reinforce the point. Asking the DG ISI to lead the government’s absolutely political dialogue with Benazir for a possible deal that could secure the future of the top general is something unusual.

In the past too, the agencies had been performing all such sordid jobs but they were mostly doing this while remaining in the background. The Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in 1988 and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q in 2001-02 are the wholesome production of the ISI, while the IB has been massively misused by Nawaz Sharif during his first tenure and by Benazir Bhutto during her second term for arm twisting of their opponents.

Intelligence networks are a reality everywhere in the world. The developed and progressing nations treat them as state institutions or assets instead of allowing them to be used by rulers to fortify their personal fiefdoms – as is happening in Pakistan and many other Third World countries.

If one goes through the legally-assigned mandate of the ISI, MI and IB, there is no scope for them to do politics on behalf of the ruler or for the rulers. Collection of strategic information about the internal and external security of Pakistan and its institutions is the general outline of their mandate. It is not that they simply don’t do what they are legally assigned, but the problem is that they are more involved into what is just not their cup of tea.

Some of these agencies are said to have been expanded beyond imagination. They are extremely well-equipped and modern like those in the developed countries. But they are not focused as the unending wave of terrorist attacks speaks volumes about their performance.

The rulers are required to essentially treat the intelligence agencies as institutions of the state and desist from dragging them for the attainment of their vested interests. In a meeting in 2000, Musharraf had expressed his abhorrence towards the politicization of the intelligence agencies and asked for their overhauling to make them focused on their prime jobs. But the irony is that in the later years, he himself used these agencies to perpetuate his rule by making and then strengthening the ruling PML.

The agencies also had their major role in the recent judicial crisis. They were exposed for spying on the judges and even did not abstain from spying on the chief justice of Pakistan. Politicians continue to be their favourite target while even selected journalists are not spared.

While these agencies need to utilise their energies and resources for the security and interest of Pakistan, they are more involved in the making and breaking of governments. A very senior military officer recently told The News that Musharraf was once told by his senior commanders to keep an eye on the MI, whose field officers in certain cases were found minting money through blackmailing of ordinary citizens, including traders.

To one’s utter disappointment, this correspondent was twice confronted recently by the members of the Presidential camp with what should have been a pure in-house discussion between two professional journalists associated with The News. They had the transcript of what the two journalists had spoken to each other by the telephone. What a great work! It is what one calls sacrificing the internal and external security of the homeland for frivolous gains.

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