Abbasi Defangs ISI
Increasing DG from 1 to 4 and DDGs from 8 to 15, Pak PM has killed two sparrows with single arrow; first make ISI less harmful and put intelligence agency under civil government
Pakistan is undergoing major crisis at domestic and international front. Despite this, the country’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi seems to be ambitious in his projection as a leader of substance. Even though he knows well that he is occupying hot seat in Pakistan till he enjoys the pleasure of his party’s boss and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he is doing everything to carve a different political image for himself. Recently, he approved a proposal to increase the civilians’ share in the upper hierarchy of the Inter-Services Intelligence, a daring effort which was undertaken by President Pervez Musharraf in 2005 when he had approved the posting of a civilian as DG ISI in Grade 21 rank, a post equivalent to a serving major general of the armed forces. In that way he managed to create one civilian DG’s post in the ISI.
But Abbasi, while firing gunshot above than Musharraf’s mark, approved increase in the number of DG from one to four in ISI. In addition to this, the Pakistan Prime Minister also enhanced the number of deputy directors general (DDGs) from eight to 15. With one stone he killed two birds: First, he defanged all-powerful and all-pervasive ISI, second, he placed the intelligence agency under overwhelming control of the civilian government. This development occurred at the time when Nawaz Sharif is struggling to regain political space, while his wife Kulsoom Nawaz is battling with cancer. But who knows Pakistan say how hard Shahid Khaqan Abbasi may try to gain political weight, he can’t win his party’s cadres’ trust which still is tilted in favour of Nawaz Sharif.
In the meanwhile, Pakistan and the US continue to have blow hot and cold kind of relations. US Defence James Mattis skipped a trip to Pakistan even though he landed in India for a three trip. Thereby, indicating categorically about continued disruptions in Washington- Islamabad relations. This was expected after Pakistan postponed the visit of US acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs Alice Wells to Islamabad in the last week of August. Nevertheless, the first high level visit by the official of the Donald Trump administration to India, which has taken place more than one month after the US President unveiled his regime’s South Asia policy on August 21, shows that the
US is not ready to tread the same path it used to walk under the Barack Obama administration.
The US has stopped giving money to Pakistan that it used to offer annually since 2002 without any string attached to it. America offered more than $33 billion in assistance to Pakistan in the past 15 years. On August 30, the Trump administration notified Congress that it was dolling out $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan into the equivalent of an escrow account that Pakistan could access only after it undertakes more crackdown on terrorists operating from its soil.
Even as Islamabad could take notice of it, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that America would use its military resources to target terrorists inside Pakistan after getting actionable intelligence. That means the US under the Trump administration is well prepared to carry out vigorous strikes against terrorists and their camps. Currently such strikes have been carried out through drones in tribal areas close to Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but, as per Pakistan watchers, they would be now taken out across Pakistan. This sent chill down Pakistan’s spine to the extent that on August 30 the country’s new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chaired a meeting of National Security Committee which was attended by all three chiefs of armed forces, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Defence Minister Khurrum Dastgir Khan, Finance Ishaq Dar and Director General of ISI Lt General Naveed Mukhtar.
In that meeting an order was issued to form a sub-committee to find ways to improve the country’s relations with the US. In the meantime, Pakistan called a three-day conclave of its envoys in the first week of September in Islamabad. The conclave attended by ambassadors from Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Afghanistan and Belgium discussed in detail about US President Trump’s new South Asia policy. Addressed by Pakistan Prime Minister Abbasi, the ambassadors’ conclave deliberated on the need to sensitize the international community about Pakistan being a frontline state in the fight against terrorism. Ambassadors were also asked to convey the international community that war against terrorism can be won by benefiting from Pakistan’s experience and not by confronting Pakistan.
Those who know Pakistan and its establishment say that such move shows desperation in Islamabad about its chequered image. However, problem within Pakistan is that such desperation is not acutely being felt by a section of officials in the country’s defence establishment and ISI. They don’t want to break their relations with jihadi groups which perpetrate terrorism on India and Afghanistan. All top leaders of Afghan Taliban and their family members are settled in Pakistan. Indian and foreign intelligence networks have information about Pakistan army’s selective treatment with terrorist groups. In the federally administered tribal areas while they target terrorists from Tahreeki-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they do not take action against armed marauders from the Haqqani group or the Afghan Taliban. This has damaged the relationship between the US and Pakistan to such an extent that Pakistan Prime Minister Abbasi could not get special time to meet President Donald Trump. The American President could have a chit-chat with the Pakistan Prime Minister during the time former threw a dinner for all heads of government/state who had landed in New York to attend UN General Assembly. In any case Pakistan continues to be adrift on all fronts and in no way Abbasis or Sharifs could correct it.