Role of ISI questioned in Senate

Published December 1, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Nov 30: The opposition on Tuesday questioned the "unlimited powers and political role" of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) while ministers and members of the ruling coalition tried to defend the working of the military's intelligence agency.

Speaking on a motion moved by the opposition to discuss the recruitment policy of the ISI, People's Party Parliamentarians (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar said the ISI had become a "state within state" and the time had come to review its charter and to evolve a mechanism to monitor its activities.

He said the fact that the ISI had become a state within state was evident from a case before the Supreme Court about distribution of funds among politicians for political re-engineering by the ISI in 1990. "A former director-general (DG) of the ISI has stated on oath that he had distributed the funds among politicians," he added.

Mr Babar said another former ISI chief had in an affidavit before another court stated that despite the United Nations (UN) ban, he had successfully airlifted sophisticated anti-tank guided missiles to Bosnia."

"If this is not a state within state, what else is it," he asked. The PPP senator recalled hearings in the US Senate in March 2003 and said Republican Senator Dana Rohrabacher had asked "How would you characterize ISI's involvement in opium business on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border over the last six years" and in reply a former US ambassador termed this involvement "substantial".

He said the intelligence agencies were also accused of involvement in sectarian violence in the country. He read out excerpts from a report of the Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee for Religious Affairs' of September 26, 1994.

The committee had recommended "strict vigilance on intelligence agencies, including the ISI, for their involvement in sectarian clashes," he added. He said the crisis of intelligence agencies started in 1965 and since then there was no monitoring of their performance and activities.

Mr Babar said even senior retired military officers had recommended that the role of the ISI in domestic politics be ended. He said former army chief Gen Aslam Beg had said in the Supreme Court that "it is a good occasion to close down the political cell so that the ISI could perform its duties according to its charter."

Mr Babar's speech was interrupted several times by Minister of State for Defence Zahid Hamid, Minister of State for Interior Dr Shahzad Wasim and Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Dr Sher Afgan.

The ministers were of the view that the opposition should focus on the recruitment policy of the ISI in the light of the recently-passed bill through which the powers of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) had been withdrawn to make appointments on civilian posts in the agency.

Mr Hamid termed the allegations levelled by Mr Babar on the ISI "wild and unjust." He asserted that the intelligence agency had rendered "a great service to the nation." He said through the bill, passed by the Senate on Friday, the parliament had restored the old system of recruitment which was followed prior to the year 2000.

He said the FPSC was given the powers to make recruitments in the ISI through an order by the then chief executive and now President Gen Pervez Musharraf. He said the same recruitment policy was being followed by intelligence agencies in the UK and the US, RAW and Mossad.

Dr Khalid Ranjha, who was presiding over the session in the absence of the acting chairman, also interrupted Mr Babar several times and asked him to discuss the functions of the FPSC, instead of the ISI in the light of the bill.

Earlier, the senators condemned the high-handedness of excise officials against Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal Senator Ismail Buledi at a checkpoint in Karachi. Both the treasury and opposition members took exception to the incident and demanded that the officials responsible should be given exemplary punishment.

Giving detail of the incident, Minister of State for Interior Dr Shahzad Wasim said the MMA senator was manhandled by the excise officials at a checkpoint when he was on his way to Islamabad to attend the Senate session.

The minister told the house that the senator had been kept under detention for five hours. The matter was brought to the knowledge of the DIG operations, Sindh, and a case had been registered against these officials.

The opposition also staged a token walkout to condemn the incident. Later, Acting Senate Chairman Khalilur Rehman said that he had talked to Mr Buledi and Sindh government officials about the incident.

He said Senator Buledi was stopped by two inspectors of the excise department, Mushtaq and Mohammad Ali Soomro, for inspection at Karachi West Excise checkpoint. These officials maltreated and beat Senator Buledi, he said. He said inspector Mushtaq had been arrested while Mohammad Ali Soomro was still at large.

He later referred the privilege motion to the committee of the Senate asking its chairman to dispose of the motion as early as possible. The house was also informed that both the officials had been suspended with immediate effect. The house was later adjourned to meet again on Wednesday evening.

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