ISI Under Leash

Posted: December 3, 2011 in Children and Child Rights, Education, Geopolitics, Politics, Uncategorized, Youths and Nation

via Cobrapost.com by Omar R. Quraishi

Let’s face it — notwithstanding the apparent fiasco of the government transferring the ISI to the interior ministry and then being coerced into reversing it a few hours later, the fact is that the most important issue in this whole matter is that there should be some kind of check and oversight on the state’s various intelligence agencies.

While some people have already jumped to the conclusion that placing the ISI under the control of the interior ministry was an ill-advised move to begin with, given that the ministry is headed by a non-elected individual and whose loyalty is thought by many to lie primarily with PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. However, this seems to be a hollow argument given that one should not be looking at individuals but rather the mechanism under which the said intelligence agency would henceforth work under. If that is made the central criterion, then clearly transferring the agency to the interior division made sense.

The reason is simple. Till now, and for the past many years, the ISI has become a dreaded organisation — and one isn’t talking about the Indians but among domestic public and political opinion — and has been accused of everything from running its own jihad, to picking up people and keeping them incognito for months and even years in some cases, to actively working against the government itself or at least against its larger interests. And while technically one could say that it was working under civilian control already, since its chief reports to the prime minister, the fact also is that its chain of communication with the executive depends on the military’s relations with an elected (or even selected) government. Since the head of the ISI is normally a three-star general, appointed by the army chief, for better or for worse he works closely with the army chief, and the central role of the intelligence agency of information gathering and its sharing with the government may to a considerable extent depend on the army chief’s relationship with the prime minister and his/her government.

Besides, all those who cried foul (and these were not only men in khaki or who had worn khaki in the past) after the change and were relieved when it was reversed need to understand that this may be a good way to at least nominally bring the agency under some kind of civilian oversight. Of course, the best approach would be to bring it under the appropriate National Assembly and Senate standing committees but here one should remember that some years back, even the heads of the armed forces welfare organisations had point-blank refused to appear before parliament. This tendency to consider it below oneself to appear before parliament has quite unfortunately become part of the psyche of some senior men in uniform (and even retired men in uniform) and stems from the perception that they and their institution are either above the law or that there is a separate (read unequal) law for them and hence there is no need to appear before a group of elected representatives and answer their questions. Of course, this kind of system where parliamentary committees have the authority to, and do, exercise considerable oversight over law-enforcement and intelligence agencies is the bed-rock of a genuine democracy and can be seen in the way this system works in the US or the UK.

Of course, this is not to say that the CIA, the NSA, or the MI6 don’t have rogue operations or do things that are at best in the law’s grey area, but they know that if things go wrong (and this is particularly true when these relate to their own citizens) then parliament can play a reasonably effective role. One only has to look at former Guantanamo Bay detainees who were citizens of countries like Canada, Australia or the UK who after their release publicly berated their governments and national intelligence agencies of colluding with the Americans to allow gross human rights abuses — how many people in this country in a similar situation have done this?

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The so-called recently-signed peace deal in Hangu seems to be nothing more than an eyewash, and which will help only the local Taliban. (In fact, a well-known US-based blog has already said that the government, for reasons best known to itself, seems to have ceded Hangu to the Taliban with this agreement).

Well, the details are as follows and readers can decide for themselves exactly what has transpired. On July 8, a flag march of the police came under heavy fire. It retaliated and a firefight ensued. In it, the police managed to arrest seven militants — the rest apparently fled — and these included Rafiuddin, the reported deputy or close aide of Baitullah Mehsud. The militants were taken to a nearby police station but soon their comrades returned in full force. Scores of local Taliban laid a siege to the police station, which lasted about 20 hours. They also blasted the transformer that feeds the facility in an effort to make the police surrender their colleagues. Luckily this did not happen and the SHO of the area, Jehangir Khan, radioed for help.

Eventually the army moved in from Kohat and the siege was lifted. The militants left before the military arrived and by then the provincial government decided to launch an operation to clear the area of local Taliban. Once this was achieved — most of the militants simply relocated to the neighbouring Orakzai and Waziristan agencies — the Taliban cleverly issued an ultimatum to the NWFP government to call off the operation or face the consequences. The provincial government willingly obliged and the operation was called off the next day.

A jirga was then convened, with the local MNA, MPA and district nazim being the most enthusiastic about it. A ‘peace agreement’ was soon signed and though details of the terms agreed upon were not made public, a contributor writing in this newspaper’s editorial pages wrote that one member of the jirga had revealed that three of the seven militants who had been arrested by the police in early July would be released, in exchange for the release of hostages taken by the Taliban. It is likely that one of those released would be Rafiuddin — and not only this, the army would withdraw from the area in exchange for an assurance by the local Taliban that they would not in future challenge the government’s authority. Surely, what was the need for launching an operation, given that the arrest of the seven militants precipitated the conditions that led to it, when the government was going to release three of them anyway? Also, when in the past have the militants ever stuck to their side of the deal?

Proof of this came the day after the peace deal was signed when the brother of the Hangu district nazim, a key member of the jirga that formulated the agreement, was kidnapped and the house in Kohat of SHO Jehangir Khan was attacked — both actions done presumably by the militants.

Is there any other way to label this other than calling it abject surrender?

Courtesy: The News Pakistan via Cobrapost

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