Courage under fire


Civilian oversight needed

The ubiquitous Pakistani intelligence apparatus, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, is under fire, both from within the country and from our erstwhile western allies. The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while appealing to the prime minister and the COAS to rein in the intelligence agencies, has gone to the extent of saying that General Kayani is the chief of an army and not a mafia.

One can discount the perennial fulminations of Nisar against the army as a personal agenda. But even the PML(N) boss Nawaz Sharif is not particularly enamoured with the role of the army in civilian matters. He has not forgotten the humiliation he had to face from his handpicked army chief Pervez Musharraf in 1999 and the manner in which he was betrayed by the then army chief General Waheed Kakar when he was prime minister in 1993.

The rank and file of the PML(N) openly accuses the establishment – a euphemism generally used in Pakistan for the ISI-military combine – of launching Imran Khan. Sharif, himself a one time protégé of General Zia-ul-Haq and being a Punjabi politician, was long considered by the army as its natural ally.

By virtue of betraying his own, now he is considered unreliable and untrustworthy. His practically walking away from the memo case in the Supreme Court after becoming the main petitioner is a case in point.

The counsel for the ISI admitting before the Supreme Court that four out of 11 prisoners picked up by the intelligence agency in 2009 had died in custody has only confirmed what is generally assumed to be true about the strong arm tactics employed by the agency in the line of duty.

The findings of the commission headed by a Supreme Court judge to probe the murder of journalist Saleem Shehzad have remained inconclusive. Fingers were being pointed at the ISI, which of course has denied any involvement. However, in the absence of a smoking gun or failure by any agency to find the real culprits, a miasma of doubt still remains about the ISI’s role in it.

The past year has not been good for the ISI. Raymond Davis, the rogue US operative, being caught red-handed in Lahore in January last year was bad enough. But the worst was Osama bin Laden being discovered living a stone’s throw away from the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Kakul for at least five years.

The fact that the Pakistani nation learnt about the sordid affair once the secret US military mission had safely decamped with bin Laden’s dead body left a lot of egg on our premier intelligence agency’s face. The US defense secretary Leon Panetta’s recent allegations that someone in authority in Pakistan knew about bin Laden’s presence does not help matters.

Largely perceived as a security lapse, the attack on PNS Mehran was another failure on the part of our intelligence apparatus. Having links with both the Ilyas Kashmiri group and the ISI, Saleem Shahzad’s murder was also linked to the incident.

The latest in the series of accusations against the ISI is a damning secret Nato report made available to the BBC that alleges that the agency was actively assisting the Taliban militants against the US-led foreign troops in Afghanistan. The leaked report ostensibly based on thousands of interrogations also states that Pakistan knows the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

Foreign minister Hina Khar has predictably dismissed the report as “old wine in an even older bottle”. But the fact remains that the West has drank this old wine for long now.

The foreign office spokesman reacting to the report has also given the textbook response that Pakistan is committed to non-interference in Afghanistan. No one who is in the know of things considers these claims credible. Why don’t we simply state the truth that we have legitimate interests in Afghanistan that necessitate our links to the Taliban?

In this backdrop, it is not surprising at all that the ISI has a serious image problem. That these perceptions are based on lies spread by Indian propaganda and the misguided liberal elite could have a kernel of truth. But perceptions if not removed over time become the reality.

Unfortunately, a makeover for the ISI is inextricably linked to the question of civilian control over the armed forces and particularly the intelligence apparatus in Pakistan. General Kayani has shown remarkable restraint and patience in dealing with Memogate that brought relations between the civilian government and the military to an all time low.

In the end analysis, better sense prevailed. All the stakeholders perhaps realised that a confrontational path was tantamount to mutually assured destruction. Those clamouring for a military-backed caretaker government “to sort out the mess” were told that such a dispensation will simply not work.

It would be instructive to know what is happening in our region. Although the Bangladesh military has an unsavory reputation of conducting coups d’etat, a recent attempt by a group of Bengali officers to usher an anti-India dispensation was thwarted by the military itself. Similarly, the Indian army chief came under severe criticism for going to the Supreme Court on an innocuous matter of trying to get his date of birth corrected.

Times have changed to the extent that Turkey which had the role of the military enshrined in its constitution saw its former military chief and his cohorts put behind bars for attempting a coup. All this has been made possible by a gradualist approach coupled with better and consistent performance by civilian governments.

The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly in his usual hard-line style has used harsh language against the army and its intelligence apparatus. But he has a valid point. Some kind of civilian oversight over the ISI is in order. Perhaps, a parliamentary committee specifically for the purpose of overlooking the agency’s role is the need of the hour.

The prime minister’s denial that the DG ISI is seeking another extension or is being given one ‘to improve matters with the army’ is welcome news. Such extensions in service, unless mitigating circumstances are strong, are always counterproductive.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today


  1. 1.Image of pakistani government is also known in the world. Any example of a country which is ruled by criminals?or people charged with corruption cases?
    In pakistan an ordinary person can not get the job of a peon & another becomes president despite on corruption charges & Jail service for 10 years.
    Is this consistent with constitution of pakistan?Rule of 1%

    2.Earlier coups in pakistan failed?Just boots came not the bullets.
    For change complete overhauling is required. 35000 people lost in the war against terror but no change?How about getting rid of 10,000 elite class.
    A new sky and new image will be seen across the world.
    French revolution is a practical example.

  2. … quite a confusing article … Mr Nizami is writing something , and not being able to say something … there Doran't seem to be a conclusion or a view point … the article is not worthy of the Hameed Nizami tradition … lacks courage and direction …

    • Eid e Milad un Nabi (SM) Mubarak to all muslims.
      Sorry Mr. Shaheryar, but this is an illuminating and loaded article. It pours sense and sobriety into the readers' thinking. Frankly, this is an article well penned. Please accept my Salams.

  3. No need to give the current Government the right to civilian oversight…they are traitors. We need honest and credible civilian leadership to be able to perform civlian oversight of the military properly….otherwise these corrupt buggers will sell off our last line of defence!

  4. hahahhaha….everyone knows ISI is a terrorist organization…this writer living under a rock preaching to dumb jihadi paki public…pathetic…no wonder pak is a beggar nation….

  5. Very thorough and balanced analysis Arif Nizami's usual style.It is time misadventures of army/ISI stop forthwith.But this is possible only,to quote Arif,through a better and consistent performance by the civilian government.The current civilian setup was arranged through NRO,the last desperate attempt by a crazy General to perpetuate himself.Let us hope and pray that we replace the rotten arrangements installed by the NRO ,through immediate elections,by a civilian government sensitive to the plight of common man.(This prayer includes two big frauds in our history the Sharif Brothers)

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