ISLAMABAD: The Abbottabad Commission has called for strengthening democratic control of state institutions and civilian oversight over so far unaccountable security and intelligence agencies if a national embarrassment like the one caused by the US raid of May 2, 2011, is to be avoided.
The commission, in the penultimate chapter of the 336-page report, made 32 wide ranging recommendations to address the issues identified during the course of its investigations and testimonies by key civilian and military functionaries. But strikingly, its suggestions repeatedly bemoaned “military hegemony” and emphasised on strengthening democracy.
Further intriguingly, the report comes at a time when rumours of cleavages between the newly elected government and the military establishment over the security situation in Balochistan are swirling around.
While it is said that the commission concluded that it was a collective failure at all levels of the government and a series of incidents of negligence and poor policy culminated in the May 2 incident, the report appeared to be quite categorical about whom it found to be responsible as it noted: “The failure was primarily an intelligence-security failure that was rooted in political irresponsibility and military exercise of authority and influence in policy and administrative areas for which it neither had constitutional or legal authority, nor the necessary expertise and competence.”
At another point in an oblique reference to the military and its spy agencies, it said systemic failure in the country was a “concrete outcome and product of acts of commission and omission of specific individuals and institutions, who usurp responsibilities that are not theirs”.
There were several references to frequent military interventions as the cause of national woes, and a warning that threat of revival of military’s “green book ideology” persisted despite the army having faded from the political scenario under Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. It further cautioned that without civilian control and democratic rule of law, May 2-like humiliations would continue to revisit the country and at some point threaten its very existence.
The commission was so particular about this core recommendation on civilian control that at one point it observed that “unless the larger picture is addressed specific measures that have been recommended will either not be taken, or if taken, would have negligible effect”.
The solution prescribed was that “all aspects of national policy must be formulated and implemented under representative civilian control, including defence and security policies”.
Addressing the issue of inadequate civilian governance, it said the standards of governance by civilian leaders declined because they were “forcibly displaced, constrained and rendered irrelevant”.
It further said: “The persons that had proper constitutional responsibilities for policy making, administrative and policing duties were in fact even less competent than the military because of effects of an absence of civilian control and participation in national decision making over a very long period.”
But, at the same time the report warned that “farcical democracy” led to “criminal mis-governance” in the democratic control.
It was in this context that in addition to the military’s encroachment on the domain of civilian leadership, the commission also found the then PPP government to be culpable for the systemic failure and hoped that “people of Pakistan in the forthcoming elections would pass a collective judgement”.
CIVILIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES: Appointment of serving or retired military officers during successive army regimes as heads of civilian intelligence outfits, it was found, inhibited their professional and institutional development.
Capacity shortcomings were particularly noticed in cases of the Intelligence Bureau and police -- the two agencies that under a normal situation should have initiated information about the presence of a high value target in any neighbourhood. Since the counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence roles had been arrogated by the ISI to itself and the working of these civilian departments had been crippled by capacity inadequacies, both agencies were able to find an acceptable excuse for themselves.
The commission, therefore, recommended that the IB and police in particular must be properly resourced, trained, granted functional independence and freed from political interference and institutional hegemony of “more powerful and favoured institutions” – an apparent reference to the ISI and MI.
COORDINATION & ACCOUNTABILITY: The commission, while observing an absence of civil-civil and civil-military intelligence coordination mechanisms, proposed establishment of an agency on the lines of the US Department of Homeland Security to synergise the working of at least eight main spy agencies working in the country.
At the same time, it underscored the importance of civilian and parliamentary oversight over the intelligence framework so that the spy agencies do not overstep their mandate.
The report found that well resourced and powerful institutions like the ISI quite often exceeded their mandates, but were never questioned.
“None of the intelligence community, including the premier intelligence organisation which is ISI, have ever been subjected to proper accountability procedures. It is a law of nature that under such circumstances the institutions degenerate and progressively lose competence. This has happened in Pakistan. This will need to be addressed, if the political leadership can summon the will to do so.”