The Eye of the Storm
For the first time Pakistan’s top intelligence agency has become the talk of the town
It all started with an armed attack on Hamid Mir, a senior anchor of Pakistan’s largest television channel, Geo News. Mir’s car was attacked as he was driving home from Karachi airport. He is reported to have received six bullets but he survived. Immediately after the incident, the news channel went berserk. For several hours it aired the story, accusing the ISI and its Director General, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, squarely, for the lethal attack on Mir’s life.
Mir’s contention was that he had incurred ISI’s wrath because of his continued coverage of the excesses, including disappearance and killing of Baloch people who oppose the government and of the missing persons’ long march to Islamabad. The allegation appeared plausible as people connected the dots with the disappearance and murder of another investigative journalist, Saleem Shahzad in Rawalpindi two years ago. Whether or not the ISI engineered the attack on Mir, the staging of countrywide rallies in support of the ISI and vilification of the Jang media group that owns the offending Geo News TV channel brought the ISI into the limelight as never before. Indeed, the rallies only further reinforced the belief that ISI reportedly spawned the militant religious organizations like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahedeen, Harkatul Mujahedeen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, – the forerunner of the present Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and so forth.
Actually, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is Pakistan’s secret service, like other countries. The U.S. has its CIA, India has its Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Afghanistan its KHAD, Britain its MI5, Russia its KGB, etc. However, the ISI differs from its international counterparts in that it is always headed by a threestar army general. This dichotomy irks elected rulers who want to make the institution accountable to the civil government. Attempts were made in the past to bring ISI under the interior ministry’s control, but in the face of stiff opposition by the army, they were abandoned.
The ISI was established in 1948 in the aftermath of the first PakistanIndia war over Kashmir, when the need for more efficient coordination of intelligence sharing among the three branches of the country’s armed forces was acutely felt. It is the largest of the three intelligence services in the country; the others being the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Military Intelligence (MI).
The agency with its vast network remains involved in spying and collecting intelligence for the defence and security of the state, both within the country and outside. During the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, it worked handin-glove with the CIA and is said to have trained an estimated 83,000 mujahedeen from 1983 to 1987 for dispatch to Afghanistan.
ISI’s three wings – internal, external and research – function through a number of “directorates,” each with its own sphere of activities. Some are engaged with operations beyond Pakistan’s borders, such as assisting the Bosnians during the civil war
in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the ISI’s greatest focus outside the country remains on India and Kashmir. Its “Covert Action Division” is solely responsible for “paramilitary and covert operations as well as special activities” in Jammu-Kashmir. All the armed raiders sent into the Valley from the Pakistan side are said to be sponsored by the ISI. India accuses the ISI of sponsoring the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam, the United Libration Front of Assam (ULFA) and even Naxalites.
Its SS Directorate monitors the terrorist group activities that operate in Pakistan against the state. And it also keeps an eye on Pakistan’s diplomats abroad.
But all these activities and even its alleged clandestine association with the Haqqani network are, all, kosher for that is what a spy agency and a secret service is all about. What is questionable, though, and has justifiably drawn flak, is its direct involvement in Pakistan’s
politics and, worse, its acting like a prosecutor, judge and executioner, all in one to dispatch whoever it considers anti-state and whoever crosses its path.
Pakistan Communist Party has been in the ISI crosshair from the very beginning. It was Ayub Khan who tasked the ISI with collecting internal political intelligence on the Awami League in East Pakistan. Later it expanded to Balochistan during the nationalist uprising in the mid1970s and, after Z.A. Bhutto’s fall, it turned its sights on the Pakistan People’s Party.
The agency has also been said to be responsible for funding the right-wing political parties during the general elections of “1965, 1977, 1985, 1988 and 1990.” In fact, the 1990 elections were widely believed to have been rigged by the ISI under Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul, in favour of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), a rightist conglomerate of nine parties set up to defeat of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party in the general elections.
The ISI was alleged to be involved in the Mehran Bank scandal (Mehrangate) in which “top ISI and Army brass were allegedly given large sums of money by Yunus Habib (the owner of Mehran Bank)”for its clandestine activities.
Among its more questionable alleged activities are the killing of Saleem Shahzad, which is why the attack on Hamid Mir made waves.
Besides these stray incidents, a mass grave was recently unearthed in Balochistan’s Khuzdar area, with bodies mutilated and showing signs of torture. The Baloch people suspected of separatist activities disappear frequently and their mutilated bodies are thrown by the wayside. “Over two hundred bodies with signs of extreme torture and a shotgun wound to the head” were discovered in Balochistan during the period of July 2010 to July 2011” for which the Human Rights Watch pointed the finger at the ISI.
The Supreme Court is seized of the issue of missing persons. The long march by relatives of missing persons to Islamabad, the relentless campaign by Hamid Mir and the attempt to kill him brought the ISI into the limelight as never before.
These tactics are counterproductive. They failed in East Pakistan. They are destined to fail in Balochistan in the same way. The proper thing to do would be to apprehend the “culprits” and bring them before the law. Killing them indiscriminately might attract the charge of genocide as it did in former East Pakistan. Events in Balochistan are already attracting international notice. U.S. Congressman Rohrabacher, for instance, has extended his support to Baloch separatists and agitated the issue in the Congress.
It is time for the ISI to rethink, review and drastically change its methods. It must not interfere in politics. And it must cease its cloak-and-dagger activities with the citizens of Pakistan. It is said to be like the CIA, so, like the CIA, it must be accountable and be ready to face criticism instead of reportedly assassinating its critics.