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DAWN - Opinion; July 30, 2006

July 30, 2006

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Role of intelligence agencies

By Anwar Syed


THE “agencies” may be doing some good work of which little is known beyond their own walls, but they have gained notoriety for messing up the country’s political system, and for gross violations of human rights. The more notable of them are the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and Military Intelligence (MI). I propose to take a look at the first two.

IB began as a segment of the intelligence bureau in British India that came to Pakistan’s share upon partition. It focuses on domestic politics, monitors the current government’s adversaries, and watches suspected terrorists and foreign agents. Its operatives may intercept the targeted person’s telephone calls and even inspect his mail. They harass opposition parties when their political superiors ask them to do so.

In the past, the Bureau has prepared assessments of the domestic political situation, state of public opinion and the levels of esteem in which the government and the ruling party were held. It also estimated the electoral prospects of the party’s candidates in various constituencies.

Formally, it formed part of the central government’s cabinet division and its director, usually a senior police officer, reported directly to the prime minister. During periods of military/presidential rule he reported to the president and probably does the same at the present time.

IB worked to promote Ayub Khan’s candidacy and engineered Miss Fatima Jinnah’s defeat in the presidential election of 1964. In conjunction with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of which we will say more shortly, it tried to ensure that no political party would win a clear majority in the 1970 election. IB played an even larger role in the election of March 1977. Its officers examined reports coming in from the district officers concerning each aspirant’s financial position, local standing, biradari connections, and reputation and passed their assessments on to Rao Abdul Rashid, a high-ranking police officer, who headed an election cell in the prime minister’s office.

Other intelligence agencies also submitted their evaluations. Mr Bhutto made decisions on the award of party “tickets” partly on the basis of these assessments. So spectacular, and therefore incredible, was the result of its and the other agencies’ exertions (155 of the 192 general seats in the National Assembly) that it brought down Mr Bhutto’s government.

It may be safe to assume that IB rendered similar assistance, perhaps a bit more discreetly, to the present regime in connection with the 2002 election, and that it is poised to do the same as the election scheduled for 2007 approaches.

Major-General Robert Cawthome, deputy chief of staff in the Pakistan army, founded the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence in 1948 to gather information relating to national security and defence. It was expected to concentrate on India, particularly Indian-occupied Kashmir. Ayub Khan expanded its role to include monitoring of opposition politicians.

Consisting of seven divisions, its tasks include collection of domestic and foreign intelligence; coordination between the intelligence agencies of the three armed services; surveillance of domestic media, and political activists; surveillance of foreign residents and diplomats in Pakistan and Pakistani diplomats serving abroad; covert offensive operations (e.g., destabilising a foreign government), maintenance of listening posts and devices along the border; preparation of threat assessments; maintenance of technologies relating to explosives and chemicals.

The ISI’s workforce is said to consist of about 10,000, including hundreds of military and civilian officers. Its funds are not limited to those visible in its budget. It made a great deal of money while it served as a conduit for the supply of American funds and weapons to the Afghan resistance against the Soviet forces in the 1980s. It worked closely with the American CIA. The two of them cooperated, among other things, in exporting drugs and, in the process, became immensely wealthy.

We are concerned here with the ISI’s domestic operations. It served as Ayub Khan’s eyes, ears, and “muscle” in dealing with his political opponents. It did the same for Yahya Khan. Over the years, it has put together and broken up political parties and coalitions. Following the Islamic revolution in Iran it is believed to have encouraged the formation of the anti-Shia Sipah-i-Sahaba. When the MQM became troublesome in the urban centres of Sindh in the late 1980s, the ISI armed some of the Sindhi nationalist groups to fight the Mohajirs, and it also managed to create a split within the MQM itself.

It brought two factions of PML back together and placed them in an alliance with the Islamic parties and some other groups (the combination called IJI) to oppose the PPP in the 1988 election. General Mirza Aslam Beg revealed during a hearing at the Supreme Court (June 16, 1997) that the ISI had received Rs 140 million from a bank, which it disbursed to parties opposing the PPP candidates in the election held in October 1990.

In September and October of 1989 the ISI attempted to bring about a split within the PPP: it tried to persuade a number of its MNAs to support a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto sponsored by the opposition parties. This move failed.

The ISI keeps tabs not only on opposition politicians but also on the ruling party and its leading men. It can put pressure upon them, and resist their pressure, by confronting them with the records of their alleged misdeeds and threatening to expose them. Once one of Mr Bhutto’s ministers told me that he had personally checked some of the telephones at the prime minister’s residence and found that they were bugged. Intelligence agencies are said to have bugged the room in which Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi (the Indian prime minister) held their private conversations in December 1988 and July 1989.

Far more abominable than intervention in political organisations and the electoral process is the ISI’s alleged mishandling of individual citizens. Numerous reports have recently appeared, saying that men belonging to the “agencies” have forced their way into homes and abused the residents, picked up persons, taken them away, held them incommunicado for months, and in some instances tortured and killed them.

Allow me to refer here to a particularly scandalous event that took place in the first week of July. An ISI officer reportedly sent a bunch of his operatives to break into the house of an 80-year old retired brigadier, twice recipient of the second highest military award (SJ) for bravery on the field of battle. They insulted him, roughed up his daughter-in-law, seized his two young grandsons (who had apparently had a fight with the ISI officer’s boys at school), and took them away.

Attempts to make the ISI accountable to the government’s political head have accomplished nothing other than further alienating the agency from her/him. The prime minister hoped to rein in the ISI by appointing a man of her/his choice as its director, but this move did not produce the desired result. Disregarding the army chief’s advice, Ms Benazir Bhutto appointed a retired major general, Shamsur Rahman Kallu, as the ISI’s head in May 1989 to replace Lt. General Hameed Gul. This did not go well with General Aslam Beg who shunned her appointee.

Nawaz Sharif appointed Lt General Javed Nasir to the post without consulting General Asif Nawaz, the army chief at the time. The latter would seem to have accepted this appointment, albeit, reluctantly. During his second term in office, Nawaz Sharif appointed Lt General Ziauddin as the ISI’s director general, overriding General Musharraf’s objections. Ziauddin was not well received at GHQ. His appointment made for friction between Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif which, as we all know, caused the prime minister a lot of grief.

The ISI is often referred to as “a state within a state,” an “invisible government,” and a “law unto itself,” for in matters of its own choosing it is accountable to no one, not even to the army chief. Writing in a Lahore newspaper (August 17, 1997), the late Mr Altaf Gauhar once observed that, national security being an inclusive concept, a great many happenings at home as well abroad could be said to have a bearing upon it. The resulting ambiguity opened the door to ISI’s interventions in the country’s domestic politics. Mr Gauhar gave an account of its domestic undertakings during the 1960s, when he served as information secretary in the central government. His narrative need not be repeated here, for we have already covered its salient points above.

But surely noteworthy is his finding that the ISI and other intelligence agencies had been so occupied with domestic politics that they had failed to gather adequate information regarding the state of public opinion in Indian occupied Kashmir in the weeks preceding the 1965 war. Mr Gauhar, having watched their performance both during his own tenure as federal secretary and later, would appear to have become greatly disenchanted with them.

He concluded his article with the observation that the “involvement of the ISI and MI in domestic politics is seen as the biggest threat to the security and solidarity of Pakistan.” Observations to the same effect have also appeared in newspaper editorials, columns, and other forums from time to time.

The ISI and the other intelligence agencies did not know much about the state of affairs in Indian held Kashmir, or the deployment of Indian forces during the war in 1965. It is hard to say to what extent their knowledge of India’s political dynamics, objectives relating to Pakistan, and levels of military preparedness has improved since then. But we do know that their competence in investigating terrorism and sabotage within Pakistan, identifying and apprehending the culprits and their sponsors, remains abysmally low. One may then wonder if they are earning their keep, and if they are worth having, if all they can do “well” is to distort and disrupt our political system, and scare, harass and torment our citizens.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, US.

Email: anwarsyed@cox.net

Friends and sycophants

By Kunwar Idris


IN the midst of hardening political stands, an advisory for conciliation and compromise issued by a group of assorted but prominent citizens comes as a whiff of fresh air. But, perhaps, it is likely to remain just a whiff. The reaction of the government party bosses and ministers, who should have welcomed it, has been surprisingly, dismissive.

Most among them consider the advice unnecessary and irrelevant and tendered by people who are either unemployed or frustrated. Leading the pack is Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi who, as if to humble the authors of the letter, has vowed to elect Pervez Musharraf as president — and that too in uniform — not once but twice.

This shows how confident he is of his influence on not just the National Assembly, the Senate and the four provincial assemblies (the electoral college for the president) but also on the army command. He would like to put on record that if he could have his way, Gen Musharraf would be president as well as chief of army staff till 2017. That would be rivalling the tenure of Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet.

The threat to Gen Musharraf, as to all long-serving authoritarian or charismatic rulers, arises not from critics but sycophants. He needs to be wary. Rulers, well-meaning and shrewder than him, have in their times succumbed to sycophancy as they have lost sight of the uncertainties ahead. He may thank the Punjab chief minister for his thought but should pay heed only to what his former comrades in arms and equally venerable men from other walks of life have to say.

Leaving aside the generals whom Musharraf knows well and some of whom have helped him administer civil affairs (Moinuddin Haider was interior minister under him and Tanvir Naqvi the architect of his new-fangled devolution system) only Shah Mahmud Qureshi, Shafqat Mahmood and Javed Jabbar may still be looking for a role in politics. The rest are lawyers, teachers and journalists either getting old or doing well enough in their own professions to enter the rough world of politics and run the risks it entails.

Particularly reassuring should be the presence of Sartaj Aziz, finance and foreign minister in Nawaz Sharif’s government, who has demonstrable capacity to stand up for fair play and to rise above the interests of the party he serves. If Musharraf opts for conciliation he could find no broker more honest than Sartaj Aziz. Javed Jabbar (whom Musharraf is known to trust and confide in) assisting Sartaj Aziz in that role should allay any reservations Musharraf might have about Aziz’s PML-N connection.

A positive and encouraging response to the proposal for national conciliation with the army having no role in politics as an essential ingredient has come from Benazir Bhutto. She has been, as the Dawn report put it, quick to grasp the olive branch. Musharraf has not been equally quick in responding to it.

PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal has also spoken for an end to confrontation and exploring ways to achieve national unity. Being the information secretary of his party what he has said could not be without the approval of Nawaz Sharif whose brother, Shahbaz Sharif, too, has called for negotiations with the government, but along the lines of the Charter of Democracy that Benazir’s PPP and PML-N jointly issued some time ago.

Jamaat-i-Islami’s Syed Munawar Hassan sees the conciliation proposal as a precursor to bigger events. Perhaps he means that there is mounting pressure on Musharraf to quit the army command. Munawar Hassan’s forebodings aside, Qazi Hussain Ahmad has finally and firmly shut the door to talks with Musharraf and his government. JUI’s Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who had so far kept the door open, also seems to be going along with Qazi Hussain Ahmad.

Whatever might be the other repercussions of the religious parties’ decision to distance themselves from the government and take to the streets instead, the religious parties’ stance lays to rest the proposition so frequently put forth by Chaudhry Shujaat Husain and Sheikh Rashid that their faction of the Muslim League and Jamaat-i-Islami were natural allies.

They did collaborate in the past when it served the ends of both but the battle lines have since been drawn. Musharraf’s modernity is irreconcilable with the MMA’s orthodoxy both in domestic policies and international commitments. Musharraf must find new partners because the PML-Q, with its opportunistic origins, narrow popular base and internal dissensions, cannot be a winning party.

Tribal insurgencies in Balochistan and Waziristan, the rampaging puritanical mobs in Khyber and sectarian mayhem spreading across the country all have their origin in the political relationships artificially forged over the past seven years. It is an agonising thought that Gen Musharraf, who made his debut in civil life from a platform of moderation and modernity, was led in the opposite direction by the very politicians who had come to him seeking protection and guidance.

Retired generals, significantly two of them former ISI chiefs, and a larger number of civilians with credible standing in their respective professions, have now offered an opportunity to Gen Musharraf to restructure his government drawing on elements closer to his political thought and plans. The credibility gap may be wide but is not unbridgeable.

Maybe conciliatory efforts can lead to Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif agreeing to stand aside for a term while Pervez Musharraf severs all his connections with the armed forces and continues to serve as constitutional head of state before the electoral field is thrown open for all to contest.

After seven tiresome years conciliation may throw up a solution in which all are winners and there are no losers. In the current environment charged with mistrust the elections cannot be fair and the consequences of rigged or violent polls can be disastrous.

Whether or not conciliatory efforts get going, the time has arrived for General Musharraf to give up the army command. He is getting deeply embroiled in politics particularly in Sindh where he has become the sole arbiter of the quarrelling factions. And the quarrels are all about jobs and money.

Even if Musharraf thinks that his politicking is for national stability it is impairing the professional character of the army he commands. Above all, he should realise how fragile and tricky his present political base will be once he ceases to be the chief of army staff.

A flawed proposal

THE Bush administration’s draft bill to authorise military tribunals to try accused terrorists, which was leaked in Washington this week, is still evidently a work in progress. It nevertheless illuminates the administration’s thinking about how to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down its previous trial system.

The draft has some significant positive elements and some terrible elements. Its fundamental problem, however, is that it does not address the flaw at the core of the administration’s strategy for putting terrorists on trial: It still seeks to create a wholly new trial mechanism rather than adapting the one America uses every day to the unique and challenging circumstances of prosecutions in this war.

The good news in the bill is that it would finally require that the trials, which are called military commissions, be conducted by genuinely independent tribunals, headed by military judges with a full complement of officers to act as jurors. These tribunals would be better insulated from command influence than the current commissions. In this important respect, they would be more solidly grounded in the rules and practices of courts-martial.

On the bad side, the draft would appear to authorise both the detention of American citizens as enemy combatants and their trial before these commissions — something even President Bush’s military order forbade. What’s more, the draft has some of the same problems as the president’s order. While some special rules to protect classified information are necessary, this proposal gives broad and imprecise authority to close commission hearings and even to exclude the defendants from them.

At the same time, it gives little guidance about what kind of summary of classified material a defendant must receive.

—The Washington Post