Friday, March 14, 2008

Reform of Pakistan’s Intelligence Services

Reform of Pakistan’s intelligence services
By Hassan Abbas
The News, March 15, 2008

The many crises faced by Pakistan today, ranging from perennial political instability to the rise of religious extremist forces, are partly a gift of intelligence agencies’ various operations (read blunders). A misplaced sense of patriotism, poor organizational management, the presence of a few rogue elements, and at times nothing but sheer incompetence, define the work ethic of our intelligence community. Indeed, they are not solely responsible for the mess Pakistan is in, and on occasions the criticism is exaggerated; they have produced their share of unsung heroes as well.

Reform of this sector desperately needs the attention of the new government before it succumbs to a series of clandestine operations. The deterioration in standards is reversible and these agencies can potentially be a source of strength for democracy and can effectively safeguard the country’s interests.

First, it is pertinent to clearly define what constitutes Pakistan’s intelligence community for the purpose of this article. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and, to a limited extent, Military Intelligence (MI) fall into this category. The ISI is the largest and the most resourceful of all, the IB is the oldest and, comparatively, the MI is the most professional of all. (That changed to a degree, however, when it was dragged into the political arena in 1989 by General Aslam Beg, who didn’t trust ISI chief Lt-Gen Shamsur Rahman Kallu because he was appointed by prime minister Benazir Bhutto.)

The primary mission of intelligence services in a modern democratic state is to collect, analyze, evaluate, and pass on foreign intelligence to the government to assist it in making decisions related to national security. Their standard task also includes producing a range of studies that cover virtually any topic of interest to national-security policymakers. Depending on the resources, they use electronic means as well as human sources and, if necessary, undertake covert actions at the direction of the chief executive. A covert action is defined as an act to influence political, economic or military conditions abroad, while keeping in view some ethical considerations. Counter-intelligence operations mainly work to guard against espionage from foreign intelligence agencies in the country. They are also expected to effectively protect the secrets of its sources and methods. The role of intelligence services is to only report information and analysis and not to make policy recommendations.

Whether all intelligence agencies follow these basic guidelines and operate within these parameters is an important question here. In many cases they do not. The international reputation of the CIA, the SIS, Mossad, the former KGB and RAW is a case in point. Still, in democratic countries intelligence agencies are often held accountable, their budgets are vetted in legislatures, and their top officials are regularly questioned -- even publicly. Anyone in doubt should read transcripts (available on the internet) of US congressional hearings where US intelligence chiefs are called to testify about their performance and then face tough and probing questions for hours. For starters, just Google the phrase "CIA chief grilled" and you will find out what I mean. In the US such hearings are often shown live on C-Span channel also.

In comparison, Pakistani cabinet ministers cannot dare question even a middle-ranking intelligence official of the ISI or IB. It is not that Pakistani politicians are spineless -- the problem is the perception (often closer to reality) that spooks can carry the day in case of a confrontation. Pakistani intelligence outfits have so often proved (especially in the 1990s) that they are stronger than the parliament -- a tragic reality (hopefully of the days gone by). Coming back to the point, by and large the western agencies named above are considered quite effective from their national perspectives, and their analyses are often deemed useful by their political leaderships -- notwithstanding the controversy surrounding WMD presence in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which, as some argue, had more to do with politics than inaccurate information. International notoriety is not considered a very bad thing for this type of organizations anyhow. In authoritarian regimes, however, the intelligence agencies are inward-looking, above the law and ruthless, and largely serve the domestic interests of the ruling elites rather than the state.

In Pakistan, various reform efforts have been attempted in the past, to little avail -- as, like, in the case of police reforms, many good proposals and reports are thrown in some dark corner. One former ISI chief, briefly interviewed for this piece through email, told me that "one recommendation was common (in all reform proposals): create a JIC (joint intelligence committee) to coordinate the work of all agencies and present the big picture." He lamented, however, that "the problem lies with the political leadership (no, the ISI did not come in the way to protect its monopoly) who was afraid to create another power centre." This indicates a major flaw in the system -- meaning thereby that all agencies under discussion seldom talk to each other and there is no mechanism in place to strategize and think together. Who is responsible for this, political leaderships or dictators, is a separate issue, which I leave for another day. This brings me to an unsolicited list of "things to do" for the new government in this sphere:

First, in the words of a former army chief (who also graciously responded to my emailed questions on the subject), "Intelligence reforms should be based on determining spheres of responsibility for each agency and reporting channels. Next is the need for coordination at a level above all these agencies -- this level should have budgetary control to give it teeth." He also perfectly named it "Intelligence Coordination Committee" (ICC), tasked to present well-thought-out analyses and projections to the highest level and not scraps of information.

The ICC should be helped by a newly constituted National Security Advisory Board with 15-20 seasoned persons from the media who cover national security issues, a couple of former intelligence chiefs, professors, writers, retired bureaucrats, judges -- preferably all without political ambitions and whose track record is there for all to see. Their job would be simply to advise the ICC on solicited issues.

On the operational side of things, the role of intelligence agencies should be confined to national security issues, and political engineering and surveillance for and of the government of the day should not be their mandate. Tragically, suicide bombers are blowing themselves up wherever they want to and some agencies are busy tapping the phones of newly elected members of the parliament and major opposition political leaders to report to their masters which way the wind is blowing. The culture of producing a "rosy picture" scenarios to win the "hearts and minds" of the leadership reportedly also remains entrenched.

Both the National Assembly and Senate should have Intelligence Committees. Currently the Pakistani Senate has 34 committees focused on various issues -- but none for monitoring the performance of the intelligence community. Same is the case in the lower house. Such committees will provide a forum for face-to-face interaction between politicians and "public servants."

The dominance of the armed forces (primarily the army) at commanding/key positions at the cost of fewer promotions for permanent civilian intelligence cadre is a disincentive for many. Even in the case of the army, some of the finest intelligence officers were either retired early or not promoted to a level they deserved (or would have achieved by remaining in the mainstream army).

Last but not the least, former senior intelligence officials (including director generals) should pick up their pens and write books on the subject. A hot title can be "Confessions of a former ISI chief"! In the international market there is no dearth of books written by former intelligence officials of the US, the UK, Russia and even Israel. No one called them traitors in their countries or condemned them for revealing national secrets. Instead, this enriched these nations.

For a successful transition to democracy, which is within Pakistan’s reach today, and to defeat terrorism, Pakistan requires an immediate, serious and meaningful intelligence reform effort.

(This concludes the three part series on security and intelligence reform)

The writer, a former government official, is a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, author of Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror.


Anonymous said...

Pakistan Peoples Party at the crossroads?

9 February 2008

THE internal power schisms of ‘Pakistan People Party’ are finally coming to the fore. This gives credence to the dark prophecies of all those pundits who had predicted, immediately after Benazir’s assassination, that Pakistan’s most popular political formation will find it difficult to survive as ‘one’ beyond the immediate needs of the coming elections.

The rot may have been brewing for a while. The natural thought, “what will I get?” must have dominated many minds from the moment they descended upon Naudero and Gari Khuda Baksh to bury the last of the ‘real Bhuttos’. But in recent days the first shot was fired by PPP Senator Dr Babar Awan who issued a statement that no one but the party co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, was the right person to be nominated as PPP candidate for prime ministerial slot after the elections.

The good senator was obviously testing the waters for Zardari. It then transpired, from newspapers, that party’s top most leadership has rebuked Awan for giving such a statement in violation of the party’s considered position that such a decision will be taken after the elections. Many wondered: “who is this top leadership?” Fortunately the confusion did not last long.

PPP senior vice chairman, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, emerged on the scene terming Senator Awan’s statements his personal opinions and clarified that only party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) has the authority to decide upon the matter -- and that too after the elections. Perhaps to add authority to his voice he claimed that he and Asif Ali Zardari were in complete cohesion over the issue.

Makhdoom of Hala might have regretted his words. For soon afterwards Zardari, while talking to the US publication Newsweek, made it clear that he is seriously considering himself for the prime ministerial slot, for he has the “widest name recognition in the party” and “no senior leader apart from him spent eleven years in jail”. Under his directions a copy of the will of Benazir Bhutto was made public to prove, once again, that she had nominated him, and no one else but him, as the acting chairman of the party.

This is now the third time that PPP under Zardari changed its position on the subject: First on 30th December, three days after Ms. Bhutto’s assassination, Zardari had clearly indicated that Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who always lead PPP, in Benazir’s absence, would be the party’s candidate for the prime ministerial slot. A few days later this position was reversed announcing that CEC will decide this after the elections. This in itself was an indication of the growing fault lines.

However, now with Senator Awan’s premonitions, Zardari’s interview in Newsweek followed with the dramatic release of the Bhutto’s ‘political will’ it is abundantly clear that Benazir’s widower is making his moves towards the top slot-albeit cautiously, inch by inch, to make it more palatable. Even in the Newsweek interview he said that he might or might not be the prime ministerial candidate. And since then he has again tried distancing his person from the idea- he has planted himself.

Since Benazir’s assassination, Zardari has not only benefited from a natural wave of sympathy inside Sindh but several of his actions have generated a national goodwill and expanded his political space: his voice of reason and restraint at a time of great commotion in Sindh; his ability to defend the federation; his better command on the use and nuance of Urdu language and his indicating that Makhdoom Amin will be the party’s nominee for the prime ministerial slot all contributed to that.

Yet his, all too visible, desire to become the prime ministerial candidate is something he should better stay away from, in the best interests of his party, country and his family. And there are certain good reasons for that.

Zardari may not be that villainous character many in the media and the government agencies paint him into. Some of those who have interacted with him on an intimate level vouch that he is as normal or unprincipled as any other in Pakistan’s power structure. Yet someone, like him, rooted in reality might be painfully aware of the negative baggage, rightly or wrongly, he carries in Pakistan’s collective consciousness. The attempts of his lawyers and lobbyists to either defend him on the grounds that nothing has been proved or by drawing parallels with the misdeeds of other politicians, bureaucrats and generals will fail to make any significant dent in the overall collective perception, at least not in the short run.

Whatever he may do, in immediate future he will continue to be a divisive figure, especially outside Sindh. And both People’s Party and Pakistan, at this hour, need a less polarised, and a uniting figure.

Also, there is a limit to which this “will business” can be pushed; and for two reasons: One, even if it is 100 per cent original many will continue to doubt it for the simple reason that Benazir Bhutto had meticulously kept her husband out of immediate political arena in her last few months and her sudden change of heart on 16th October 2007, making her beloved husband the net beneficiary of her legacy – though analytically correct -- continues to look far more dramatic than most people can digest.

But even if all this is ignored, this “will business” has serious limitations in the long run. Pakistan People Party may not be a party in the western sense of it, but it deserves to be at least comparable to a better managed Private Limited Company.

This “will business” belongs to private assets and properties and even there exist examples of private concerns where managers or long time associates end up inheriting the mantle of leadership over incompetent off springs. And PPP, in all fairness, is endowed with a range of competent persons.

Despite this, we must admit that today Asif Ali Zardari has been given a role by history; he is someone who can provide internal unity to PPP; by keeping it together he can help it to emerge as the most powerful political force in the aftermath of the elections; can wield tremendous influence for himself, his son and for people of Sindh and may end up developing a new profile for himself in his own role rather than the borrowed sheen of his slain wife.

But all of it will have a chance of possibility if he demonstrates the maturity of putting his good will and organisational abilities behind a ‘consensus candidate’; in other words: if he decides to become Sonia Gandhi of Pakistan.

Dr Moeed Pirzada, a broadcaster and political analyst, with GEO TV Network, has been a Britannia Chevening Scholar at London School of Economics and Political Science. Email:

Anonymous said...

PPP decides to name Zardari for PM post
13 Mar 2008, 0101 hrs IST,PTI
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ISLAMABAD: The PPP, set to head Pakistan’s new coalition government, is understood to have decided in principle to nominate Asif Ali Zardari for the premiership, a post he will be eligible to occupy only after his election to the National Assembly.

The single largest party is also offering Makhdoom Amin Fahim, till recently the front-runner for office of prime minister, the position of PPP parliamentary leader in the National Assembly (NA) and his son the post of adviser to the premier with the status of a federal minister, Daily Times claimed in a report on Wednesday.

Zardari, the co-Chairman of PPP, “has assigned a senior party leader to convey this offer to Amin Fahim and return with a response soon,” a source at Zardari House was quoted as saying by the paper.

Meanwhile, names such as Fahmida Mirza; Azra Pechooho, the sister of Asif Ali Zardari; and Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah are among those suggested for the post of interim prime minister pending Zardari’s election to the National Assembly, the report said.

“The offer has been extended to Fahim (for the post of parliamentary leader) after the party’s own ranks and its would-be coalition partners expressed reservations over the nomination of the PPP senior vice chairman (Fahim) as the party’s nominee for the office of prime minister,” the source at Zardari House said.

Sources said Fahim, a loyalist of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, was offered the post of parliamentary leader in view of his long association with the party.

The offer was also made to avoid differences and faction formation within the party, the newspaper reported.

During Tuesday’s meeting of PPP’s lawmakers, most of the participants said they would accept Zardari’s decision on the party’s PM post.