Forgetting history

Published May 14, 2011

THE ministerial springing to the defence of the ISI took off pre-Abbottabad. On April 25, the interior minister, Rehman Malik, told the press that “the ISI is not and has never been involved in politics....”

Two days later, as reported, Prime Minister Gilani more or less the same thing, insisting that the ISI did “nothing” without government backing and that it is not involved in any act against “the national interest”. While it was officially announced in 2008 that the ISI's political wing had been disbanded, sceptism has remained.

All countries have a premier intelligence agency to safeguard national security. The history and activities of the ISI are contained in books like Profiles of Intelligence by I.A. Tirmizi and articles including one by Altaf Gauhar on 'How Intelligence Agencies Run Our Politics'.

Information from a variety of sources indicates that the ISI which was founded in 1948 became the tool of President Field Marshal Ayub Khan. He used it not simply for the safeguard of Pakistan's interests but to monitor opposition politicians to sustain his military rule. That was its initial baptism into its influence in politics. It is said that it failed miserably in the 1965 war due to its preoccupation with political affairs.

It became even more deeply involved in domestic politics under President Yahya Khan, primarily in East Pakistan and the 1970 elections. The ISI was charged with the task of ensuring that no political party should gain an overall majority. This operation was also a disaster.

Then came Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who in 1975 created within the ISI a political cell which, as the ISI supposedly reports directly to the prime minister (or president in the absence of a prime minister) he used extensively.

Some have it that ZAB's (fatal as it turned out to be) promotion of Ziaul Haq as his army chief was done on the active prompting of the agency. The political cell let down its creator in the 1977 elections by over-rigging where no rigging was necessary. This led to ZAB's downfall which then led to his 'judicial murder'.

The agency served Ziaul Haq to its ultimate, fixing and fitting here and there, but lost out badly when it came to the mangoes. By 1990, the political cell had honed itself considerably and in that year's elections not only did it rig successfully but it actually formed a political party — the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, a conglomerate formed of nine mainly rightist parties, specifically to ensure the defeat of Benazir Bhutto's PPP (which has nothing to do with the present party of that name).

It is inconceivable that neither Malik nor the prime minister remember the 1990 operation. Both were around at the time and Gilani was particularly politically active. It was in 1978 that his political career took off, during the martial law when he joined the PML, skipping over to the PPP in 1988 when BB arrived on the scene.

Malik, as head honcho of the FIA in the mid-1990s, cannot be so naïve as to be unaware of facts relating to intelligence matters. He must also know how, throughout the 1990s, the agency played a leading role in guiding political machinations.

And so it continued into the 21st century. So, when the bewigged leader of the opposition at the end of April expressed his opinion that the 'agencies', as the ISI is euphemistically known, has been messing about forming this latest unsavoury coalition between the PPP and the Q League it is not impossible that he had a point.

Even more astounding is it that Messrs Gilani and Malik are ignorant of a matter that has been pending in the Supreme Court since 1996, and that they have conveniently forgotten the Mehrangate scandal.

Asghar Khan, a man of utter integrity (which explains why he consistently failed on the political front), in 1996 wrote a letter to the then chief justice of Pakistan advising him of how in the run-up to the 1990 elections the ISI had unlawfully distributed the people's money for political purposes. His letter was converted into Human Right Petition no.19 of 1996.

It was filed against Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, former chief of army staff, Lt Gen Asad Durrani, former chief of the ISI and Younus Habib of Habib Bank and then Mehran Bank. When forming the IJI, the ISI under instructions from the army chief and its own chief, used Mehran Bank funds to 'buy' a large selection of politicians and functionaries who were charged with the task of 'fixing' the elections so that Mian Nawaz Sharif and his merry IJI band would roundly defeat the PPP. In this, for once, the ISI pulled off a successful job.

The hearing of the petition commenced in February 1997. The last hearing was on Oct 11 1999, one day before the military overthrew the second of the Nawaz Sharif governments, when the sitting chief justice announced that he had reserved judgment. Since then, Asghar Khan has sent letters to succeeding chief justices of Pakistan requesting them to 'reopen' the matter — two were sent in 2002 asking for judgment to be handed down before that year's elections, and one prior to the 2008 elections. He received no response.

Now, with politics being what they are and the ISI yet again being in the foreground of matters national, could not the Supreme Court find time out from being bound up with constitutional matters, and bring this human rights petition to its logical conclusion?

arfc@cyber.net.pk

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