FROM interference in domestic politics to enforced disappearances to the harassment of citizens on dubious premises, Inter Services Intelligence has often been accused of overreaching its domain and resisting civilian control, despite technically being answerable to the prime minister. While the agency might have decided to play a less overt part in politics in recent years, suspicions about its role linger — exacerbated by the swift shutting down of efforts to bring it under the purview of the interior ministry — and a private member’s bill that now seeks to increase civilian oversight of the ISI is a bold and welcome move. Given the sensitive nature of the issues the agency deals with, though, it cannot be treated like any other government department. So a tricky balance will have to be struck between accountability and ensuring that sensitive information, and the country’s security, are not compromised. Either too much or too little interference could render such an oversight framework ineffective.

But it is too early to tell whether the bill will survive, and there are signs of some reluctance to address the issue head-on. It provides, for example, for 30 days of detention of suspects that can be extended to 90 days and beyond. This would now require increased paperwork and approvals. Still, such a provision could be used to continue to deprive detainees of timely and fair trials. This is especially problematic when it comes to detained Pakistani citizens, since the ISI’s primary mandate is to deal with external threats. Timidity is also obvious in the approach the government has taken. The proposed legislation has been introduced as a private member’s bill but was moved by the president’s spokesperson and high-profile PPP loyalist Farhatullah Babar, indicating an attempt to test the waters without putting the party in a position where it has to own the bill if the gamble doesn’t pay off. And perhaps this is such tricky terrain that a pragmatic strategy is needed. However it was introduced, though, its reception in parliament should be an interesting test of how willing elected representatives are to assert rightful civilian control.

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Comments (28)

Ahmed Ali
July 10, 2012 4:00 pm
the bill had to be passed long ago..
July 10, 2012 12:52 pm
Amit from Atlanta, I see that when you are censored unlike on CNN website your comments against Pakistan appear less acidic.
July 10, 2012 9:03 am
Because the prime minister is Raja Rental
Gulzar Kandrani
July 10, 2012 6:31 pm
Good step by PPP government with good intention. May keep the such people of PPP ' Safe & Sound" after such bills. Amen
July 10, 2012 11:59 am
Ultimately..........the people of Pakistan are responsible for their OWN CREATIONS! If the ISI or any other agency is proving to be a dinosaur it's the Pakistani govt, and in turn the people who elected them in the first place who are responsible.........................PERIOD! The greatest issue anology here is what Hillary Clinton said sometime back, "When you rear snakes you can't expect it to bite ONLY your neighbors"!.
July 11, 2012 2:45 am
I think intelligence failures are everywhere, 9/11, 7/7, mumbai attacksare just the recent examples, no agency in the world is perfect. I think with meagre resources, weaker political backup and will they are still serving the nation better.
andy fr dc
July 10, 2012 9:05 am
Hilarious. It is like a caged animal discussing what freedom to give it's zoo keeper.
T Ahmed
July 10, 2012 11:18 am
you obviously need to see the world outside your bubble in dc.
July 10, 2012 10:33 am
ISI is the first line of defense against all external and internal threats. This is a long desire of Zardari, Hussain Haqqani and their fellows having vested interests to weaken this institute. We as Pakistanis are proud of ISI and support it. I think Pakistani nation should rise against this bill which is in my view trying to weaken one of our major institutions.
July 10, 2012 10:43 am
Pakistan can never control ISI, because ISI is doing what people wants. It never does any thing to Pakistan's security instead what it does is putting bombs in other countries and the people of Pakistan wants to put bombs in other countries. So the purpose is fullfilled. So ISI is fullfilling the aspirations of the people. So ISI or Pakistan Army can never be controlled.
July 10, 2012 10:44 am
with reference to mr tahir is our military leadership competent honest and patriotic.
July 10, 2012 9:07 pm
T Ahmed, Andy is spot on. Don't be so sensitive.
July 10, 2012 9:09 pm
Part of efforts to remove all hurdles which are protecting a sovereign country.
July 10, 2012 9:10 pm
July 10, 2012 9:32 am
They never collected any intelligence on any suicide attack yet - they found that naval headquarters and GHQ are attacked when the whole world already knew it. They found that Americans had taken OBL away when Americans told the rest of the world. Very tricky job.
July 10, 2012 11:15 am
That is what cancer is. Cells of ones own body that are harmful to self and are late to detect. sometimes too late.
July 10, 2012 9:30 am
the wish to bring the ISI under civilian control could only be fulfilled when there are competen ,honest and patriotic civilian leadership in power.
Agha Ata
July 10, 2012 1:15 pm
Who will bell the cat? That is the question.
Zar Kahn Wazir
July 10, 2012 1:00 pm
Just like RAW is for you guys
July 10, 2012 4:44 am
The ISI is just like any other department of the executive.I don't understand why you are so concerned about"either too much or too little interference" in the affairs of ISI. We, through our elected representatives, should have unfettered control over all the branches of the executive. That also includes the ISI
akhter husain
July 10, 2012 7:02 am
Every one is accountable to people through their representative then why ISI be not be answerable to elected prime minister? The elected persons should also not be fussy about ISI because intelligence gathering is very sensitive and tricky job.
July 10, 2012 7:38 am
I am pretty sure it will remain what it is " a bill"!!! In 60 years Army has perfected the art of assured.
Zar Kahn Wazir
July 10, 2012 12:58 pm
I think she would know a thing or two about snakes.
Zar Kahn Wazir
July 10, 2012 12:56 pm
Why does it matter to you. Worry about your own Army
July 10, 2012 9:51 am
All animals are equal but some are more equal than others!!! The bill will crash boom bang!!!!
Stephen Pramod
July 10, 2012 9:53 am
Collecting external intelligence is fine with any Intelligence agency, but interference in domestic politics should not be acceptable. It can set a dangerous precedent. For democracy to strenghthen this should be avoided
July 11, 2012 9:38 am
surely this proves sign of very deadly cancer, enjoy being infected & count ur days :D
July 14, 2012 6:14 pm
ppp can get its lost glory by making isi to act in its jurisdiction. Civilian authority is supreme over military authority.
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