ISI’s political wing closed down? Good news at last…

‘Political wing of ISI not yet terminated’

* Senior security official says department made ‘inactive’, but staff not moved
* Says ISI going through transformation

Daily Times Monitor

ISLAMABAD: A senior security official has contradicted Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s statement that the political wing of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been closed, BBC reported on Monday.

Qureshi had told reporters in Multan on Sunday that the ISI political wing had been disbanded. “The ISI is a precious national institution and wants to focus on counterterrorism activities,” APP quoted him as saying.

Without identifying the senior official, BBC said the ISI political wing exists, but has been made ‘inactive’. The official said the staff of the department had not been given new assignments.

ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha had focused on counterterrorism during his previous assignment as the director general of Military Operations, the BBC said, and is expected to keep terrorism his top priority in his new office.

The ISI has been accused of several questionable political activities in the past, including the creation of an anti-Pakistan People’s Party alliance in the 1988 general elections and uniting several factions of the Pakistan Muslim League to form a pro-Pervez Musharraf party in 2002. BBC said ISI officials admit that interfering with the political process had cost the agency the trust of the people.

Transformation: The security official said the ISI was going through a transformation.

“The agency wants to stay away from political issues,” he said. “It wants to quit its past activities such as keeping an eye on politicians.”

Quoting other sources in the ISI, the BBC said politicians hoping to become senators still knock at the ISI’s door, and that the agency has complained people pose to have links with them to seek personal favours.

The unidentified sources also told the BBC that the ISI did not select or approve government ministers. Without naming anyone, the BBC said analysts had warned that governments might use the agency for political purposes in future because its political wing had not been closed down.

Only July 26, the Cabinet Division had issued a memorandum under Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973, placing the ISI under the direct control of the Interior Division, but later decided to hold it ‘in abeyance till further deliberations’.

“The prime minister is pleased to direct that the federal government will carry out further deliberations on co-ordinating the intelligence efforts. Till the completion of these deliberations, the Cabinet Division’s memorandum of even number, dated July 26, 2008, is held in abeyance,” says an official announcement called ‘Memorandum’ issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on July 29. (Daily Times, 25 Nov 2008)


Redirecting the ISI?

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters in Multan on Sunday that the “political wing” of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been disbanded. He then added the stock sentence: “The ISI is a precious national institution and wants to focus on counterterrorism activities”. There is hardly any leading politician in the country who will mourn the alleged demise of the so-called internal political wing of the ISI. And the PPP has the most reason not to mourn it because it was the most targeted party under the “wing” since it was ousted from power by General Zia in 1977.

The last time the PPP tried to make changes in the ISI was some months ago when orders subordinating it to the Interior Ministry had to be hurriedly rescinded on the ground of some “misunderstanding” in drafting the relevant notification. Presumably, the abolishment of the internal political wing of the ISI would be the next best thing if it could get it in the circumstances. But has this really happened? Is Mr Qureshi levelling with us? We are not convinced.

Intelligence regarding terrorist attacks is bad. Even after it was let known that a certain number of suicide-bombers had left for the big cities, further action could not be taken because of lack of follow-through. The political wing was another name for “dirty tricks” which the rulers used. But there is no reason here to blame the ISI for having the “wing”. It was created by a civilian politician to keep tabs on what opposition politicians were doing. There was no “analysis” to speak of: there was intimidation and some “incidents” that the victims openly attributed to the ISI. When some politicians of high political ranking had their cars burned mysteriously, they lost no time in blaming the ISI for it. One “political wing” gang was caught trying to overthrow the reigning PPP government in a covert operation in 1989 ominously named Midnight Jackals.

After General Zia had given the ISI its orientation, it became difficult for succeeding civilian governments to control its officers. The PPP in 1988 tried to appoint its own choice of a general to the top job but found that its director general was hardly acceptable to the rank and file. That has continued since then. Fired ISI chiefs have boasted their lingering hold on the organisation while appointed chiefs keep swearing that the organisation is obedient to them. After leaving the top job some generals don’t mind dabbling in politics, clearly showing their bias in retrospect. One ISI chief actually created a political alliance against the PPP and today inspires the jihadi-religious elements. Another chief is informally leading the mammoth congregation of Deobandi Islam from where most of the banned jihadi organisations are drawn. Another has a case pending at the Supreme Court for handing out cash to politicians to affect the results of the 1990 elections. The “political wing” was also busy preparing grounds for victories in elections held by General Musharraf in 2002. Those who lost complained bitterly of “pre-poll” manipulations and clearly named the ISI. Yet, those who compelled the ISI to dabble in politics were finally punished by fate and the ISI could not save them.

If we want it, we can have a professional ISI. The wrong has been committed by giving the ISI — which is supposed to guard against external threats to security — a charter which undermines its professionalism. In the past, personnel were selected according to an ideological yardstick that may not be relevant any more. Many of the men who serve the ISI are still more fired by faith than intellect, which makes them vulnerable to the attraction of jihad and those who operate it. When the time comes to choose between the state and the people they have been handling, they tend to reveal clear signs of “reverse-indoctrination”. There are also retired ISI officials denouncing the state in public under the pretext of “human rights”.

We are at a crossroads as far as the task of intelligence is concerned. The old parameters are all gone, as was revealed by the incident of Lal Masjid which was partly responsible for bringing down the rule of General Musharraf. He kept on swearing that he had purged the ISI and brought it in line with his new objectives, but as the incident unfolded, it was revealed that there were divisions within that undermined the operation when it was finally ordered by him. Later on, once again, his assurances were belied when Ms Benazir Bhutto started receiving “inside” information on his real intent after her “reconciliation” with him.

If one uses an intelligence agency for political purposes, this is what one gets. So, if the news as given out by Shah Mahmood Qureshi is true, ISI professionals themselves must be relieved that they will no longer be required to use “dirty tricks” for politicians and will have the time and energy to serve the nation by securing it against external threats. The big challenge is terrorism. It has to be tracked objectively without political bogeys attached as an interpretive tool. (Daily Times, 25 Nov 2008)


Munno Bhai, Jang, 22 Nov 2008


Munno Bhai, Jang, 21 Nov 2008


A new order
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 (The News)

The disengagement of the military from the political life of the nation has taken another step in the right direction with the announcement of the disbanding of the political wing of the ISI. The military have been drawing back from the political arena almost since the appointment of General Kayani in October 2007 – his previous position having been none other than director-general of the ISI from October 2004 until his appointment as the COAS. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has announced that henceforward the ISI will concentrate on counter-terrorism operations and no longer take a close interest in the private lives of political figures or in the manipulation of elections and political parties. The political wing of the ISI was a key player both during the Musharraf years and in the decades before that; and there were those that said – indeed many who still believe – that the ISI had become ungovernable and was a state within a state, accountable neither to the president not the prime minister. Of course, the argument that intelligence agencies of even strongly democratic countries such as the CIA or MI6 can sometimes act in a manner that is rogue-ish is not entirely untenable when history is examined more closely – however, the point remains that the intelligence agency of any democracy must firmly operate under the reins of the civilian leadership and be held accountable to parliament.

Few will have forgotten the butcher’s shop that was Karachi throughout much of the 90s when it was alleged that the ISI tried to counter the growing influence of the MQM, fomenting a split in its ranks with bloody consequences that have echoes in the political life of the city even today. There were allegations of involvement of the agencies in the assassination in 1985 of Shahnawaz Bhutto, brother of Benazir Bhutto, in an attempt to intimidate her into not returning to Pakistan. America has long suspected the ISI of having a political inclination towards the religious parties; and of its own ranks being liberally sprinkled with men who were far from liberal and were covert supporters of extremist elements within the country. We will never know how many ‘disappeared’ have vanished into the ‘safe houses’ of the ISI, nor if intelligence shared by other countries is passed on to terrorist targets – facilitating their escape.

Whilst there is much that we will not ever know and much that we might question or deplore, we have to acknowledge that we have never needed an effective counter-terrorism and intelligence agency more than we do today. An agency distanced from the world of politics. The disbandment of the ISI’s political wing and the reassigning of its staff to ‘other duties’ may be seen as a normalizing process, a realigning of priorities and a more appropriate use of resources – but we would be wrong to assume that the ISI is ever going to take its eye off the political ball.