The Eye of the Storm

For the first time Pak­istan’s top in­tel­li­gence agency has be­come the talk of the town

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

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.

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