ISLAMABAD: Senators called upon the country’s top intelligence agency on Monday to clear its name in cases of attacks on journalists and the matter of enforced disappearances.
The role of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was brought up in the house as members discussed Saturday’s attack on senior journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi and allegations levelled by his family against the head of the agency, Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam.
Deputy Chairman Sabir Baloch suspended the day’s routine agenda to allow for a debate on the issue.
Senators, mostly from the opposition benches, deplored the “ISI-bashing” that had ensued in sections of the media following the attack on Mr Mir.
They urged the ISI to avail itself of this opportunity and present itself before a newly-announced judicial commission to facilitate investigations and prove that it was not behind the unfortunate incidents.
Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said that though he had personally been critical of the ISI’s interference in the country’s political history, he believed no one should “jump to (any) accusations against an institution”.
“The ISI has a chequered history. It has fathered and mothered the jihad in Afghanistan. Its involvement was proven in the Asghar Khan case (manipulation of elections), Operation Midnight Jackal and the ill-planned Jalalabad operation of 1989,” he said.
“I was interior minister at the time of Operation Midnight Jackal and I personally took the ISI head on.” But, he said, care should be taken not to malign the entire institution before the judicial commission had a chance to probe the matter.
“The ISI should take (these allegations) as a challenge and extend its assistance in the investigations,” MQM’s Nasreen Jalil said.
She said the ISI must also act to clear its name in the matter of missing persons.
ANP’s Haji Adeel alleged that in the past the ISI had “trained terrorists to send to Afghanistan and Kashmir”.
Farhatullah Babar of the PPP said the judicial commission should investigate the allegations levelled by Mr Mir’s family. “This is an opportunity for the ISI to prove wrong all the allegations levelled against it.”
The MQM’s Tahir Mashhadi termed the attack on Mr Mir a failure of the Sindh government, intelligence agencies and police.
Hafiz Hammadullah of the JUI-F said the attack had taken place at a time when security was already on high alert as retired Gen Pervez Musharraf was also scheduled to arrive in the city merely hours later.
Mushahid Hussain of the PML-Q said that since the ISI was an institution of the state, it should not be left ‘defenceless’.
“ISI and army-bashing must be stopped. Since ISI is part of the state’s defence infrastructure, it is the duty of the government to come to its defence,” he suggested.
The house adopted a unanimous resolution expressing “deep concern over the series of attacks on journalists” and urging the government to take steps to protect them.
At the beginning of the session, reporters covering Senate proceedings walked out from the Press Gallery to protest the attack.
However, they returned after both treasury and opposition leaders promised to form a Senate committee which would look into a possible legislation for the safety and protection of the rights of journalists.
Conspicuous by their non-participation in the debate were senators of the ruling PML-N. Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq deplored the attack, but did not speak on the allegations levelled against the ISI.
He also announced the names of five members who, he suggested, would constitute the house committee.
But due to reservations from other senators it was decided that the committee would be formed after consultations with all stakeholders and would consist of representatives of all major parties.