A session of the Senate in progress. — Photo by APP
ISLAMABAD, July 8: The presidential camp plans a serious effort to tame the country’s premier intelligence agency — Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — through parliamentary legislation and make it fully ‘answerable’ to parliament and the government.
A 19-page draft of a bill was submitted in the Senate by president’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar a few days ago and may be taken up during the session commencing on Monday.
Sources in the PPP told Dawn that the important legislation regarding the ISI had been discussed with coalition partners.
But leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement said they had not studied the draft and, therefore, could not comment on it.
“It is a private member’s bill submitted by a parliamentarian in his individual capacity and such bills are not shared with the coalition partners before they are tabled in the house,” PML-Q spokesman Kamil Ali Agha said.
The proposed Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (Functions, Powers and Regulation) Act, 2012 (a copy of the draft is available with Dawn), suggests that the ISI should be answerable to parliament and the prime minister. It recommends internal accountability and a better discipline system within the agency to put an end to enforced disappearances and victimisation of political parties.
It is for the first time that a serious effort is being made to streamline the affairs of the agency which has always remained under criticism.
The legal fraternity praised the effort to make the ISI subservient to parliament and address the ‘missing persons’ issue.
“If this serious effort has been made by a parliamentarian it should be backed by all political parties, including opposition parties like the PML-N,” Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood said.
Giving the background of the proposed legislation, the bill says: “The absence of appropriate legislation regulating the functioning, duties, powers and responsibilities of the agency is not consistent with the principles of natural justice and accountability of authority and power and has given rise to resentment against the premier national agency.”
PM’S CONTROL: The bill provides for a director general of the agency who shall be a serving or retired civil servant in BS-22 or of an equivalent rank in the armed forces to be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister and shall hold the office for four years. “The agency shall be directly under the prime minister and not under any ministry.”
PARLIAMENT’S SUPERVISION: The bill envisages an Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament comprising nine members drawn from both houses of parliament, none of whom shall be a minister or minister of state, to examine matters relating to expenditure, administration and policy of the agency. The committee will not be allowed to go into the intelligence sources of the agency.
The prime minister shall lay before each house of parliament a copy of the annual report of the committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from it and why.
DETENTION: In the case of missing persons, the government formally stated before the Supreme Court on April 27, 2007, that the operations of the intelligence agencies were beyond the control of the federal government, the draft says.
It suggests that the director general may issue written orders for taking into preventive custody any person who in his opinion is acting or has acted in furtherance of a terrorist act or in a manner prejudicial to the security of Pakistan, or has aided or abetted any such act.
The director general shall fix the period of custody, not exceeding 30 days, in the order of preventive detention of any such person and this period can be extended up to 90 days on special grounds.
If a person is required to be detained for more than 90 days, the director general shall place the matter before a review board set up for the purpose under Article 10 of the Constitution.
An officer of the agency not below the rank of BS-18 should be authorised in writing by the director general to enter any premises which may contain information of substantial importance to the agency.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND DISCIPLINE: Under the proposed act, any employee of the agency found in any way working for the enemy, any terrorist or terrorist organisation, or for any criminal or organised criminal group, shall, on conviction, for every such offence be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 25 years and with fine. The employees of the ISI shall not be regarded as civil servants and a separate mode of taking disciplinary action against them for misconduct has been prescribed in the draft of the bill.
It also proposes penalties for certain types of misconduct by any member of the agency who is guilty of any wilful breach or neglect of any provision of this act or is guilty of any violation of duty.
A member who without lawful authority enters or searches any building, vessel or place or inflicts torture or violence to any person in his custody shall, on conviction, for every such offence be punished with imprisonment for up to seven years and with fine.
OMBUDSMAN: The bill recommends the appointment of an ombudsman by the president under Article 212 from amongst persons having special knowledge in the field of intelligence, law and administration, on such terms and conditions as the president may determine, to independently and impartially address service complaints of the employees of the ISI and any complaints of misuse of authority by the agency.
TRIALS AND APPEALS: The accused can be tried by a specially constituted tribunal comprising a serving member to be nominated by the director general and a retired member to be nominated by the ombudsman and headed by a serving judge of high court to be nominated by the chief justice.