The Coal Mer­chants

Par­lia­men­tary over­sight mech­a­nisms are needed to make the in­tel­li­gence agencies ac­count­able to a cred­i­ble watch­dog.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Shahzad Chaudhry

There is a pretty poignant proverb in Urdu that says “Koe­lay ke karo­bar mein haath tau kaalay ho­tay hi hein.” I am not sure if there is a sim­i­lar and com­pat­i­ble say­ing in English, but loosely trans­lated, it means when you deal in coal you are bound to get your hands black­ened. In­tel­li­gence is one such busi­ness – a dirty busi­ness. In some ways, it can be com­pared to clear­ing sew­er­age lines. Some­one must de­scend into man­holes and clear the clogs so that the trash rou­tinely clears out to keep the sys­tem clean and run­ning.

No na­tion can work with­out a sound in­tel­li­gence sys­tem. Even if a na­tion does not have ag­gres­sive de­signs, it will, at least, have de­fen­sive con­sid­er­a­tions against per­ceived threats from an­other na­tion. An­other might just want to keep it­self safe from in­ter­nal threats. With a rather grim his­tory of both its birth and con­flicts, Pak­istan has been in a most un­en­vi­able po­si­tion be­cause of ex­ter­nal threats to its ter­ri­to­rial and so­ci­etal se­cu­rity. Added to it have been threats that have grown from within and caused it to look in­wards for se­cu­rity.

Two par­al­lel move­ments in Pak­istan’s early years are no­table in how a newly in­de­pen­dent na­tion re­ver­ber­ated with in­ter­nal con­vul­sions. The very first signs of an in­ter­nal dis­tur­bance came with the fa­mous Rawalpindi Con­spir­acy case of 1951. Some mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, in col­lu­sion with some well-known names from the Com­mu­nist Party of Pak­istan, at­tempted to over­throw a govern­ment which was per­ceived to be head­ing into the U.S.’ or­bit. This was per­haps the first at­tempt at a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change of the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial or­der by re­plac­ing the ap­par­ently cap­i­tal­ist lean­ings with a com­mu­nist pref­er­ence. Clearly, such com­mu­nist in­flu­ences were around to form a con­spir­acy which was de­tected and foiled by the in­tel­li­gence agencies to se­cure a fledg­ling na­tion.

The next such oc­ca­sion was even dead­lier. Ben­gali na­tion­al­ism had in­creased dur­ing the 1965 war when East Pak­ista­nis felt marginal­ized and vul­ner­a­ble with the bulk of the Pak­istani forces de­ployed in de­fend­ing the western half. Per­haps the event and its con­se­quence was a cat­a­lyst to some­thing that was al­ready brew­ing. Sheikh Mu­jibur Rehman, the head of the na­tion­al­ist Awami League, was al­ready known to be in con­tact with ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences and had paid a sur­rep­ti­tious visit to Tripura in 1964, work­ing along na­tion­al­ist lines seek­ing com­plete au­ton­omy if not a break­away from Pak­istan – not yet at least.

That the mat­ter was fool­ishly han­dled at the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary level by Rawalpindi can only be an enor­mous un­der­state­ment. Lead­ers of the Awami League were cap­tured and tried for a con­spir­acy that forced a vir­tual shut­down of East Pak­istan. The trial was called off un­der pres­sure which sig­naled a clear moral vic­tory for the na­tion­al­ists’ stance. The per­sist­ing break­down of law and or­der fol­lowed, bring­ing down Ayub Khan’s govern­ment in 1969. Such dom­i­na­tion of the na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment in­sti­gated an in­sur­rec­tion that is largely rec­og­nized now as the hand­i­work of In­dian in­tel­li­gence that col­luded with Mu­jibur Rehman’s Awami League. The col­lu­sion gave birth to the Mukti Bahini, fi­nally open­ing the way for the In­dian forces to in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily. In the world of in­tel­li­gence, there hasn’t been a greater suc­cess in mod­ern times. Some years later, In­dian in­tel­li­gence re­peated the ex­er­cise in Sri Lanka by fos­ter­ing a pro­longed Tamil in­sur­gency but failed to em­u­late their suc­cess against Pak­istan.

Pak­istan’s cur­rent tra­vails of a full­blown in­sur­gency in FATA and an­other in Balochis­tan, with its na­tional co­he­sion un­der se­ri­ous stress, may be sourced partly as a con­se­quence of fal­la­cious poli­cies and partly to ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences that con­tinue to desta­bi­lize the coun­try in an ef­fort to weaken its po­ten­tial as a na­tion. In a com­pet­i­tive re­gional en­vi­ron­ment, ag­gres­sive in­sur­rec­tion through sur­rep­ti­tious means is the es­tab­lished norm. Each na­tion in the re­gion has al­ways been known to pos­sess strong and ac­tive na­tional in­tel­li­gence out­fits. Proxy con­flicts are a fact of life.

In­dia ac­cuses Pak­istan’s in­tel­li­gence agencies of in­ter­fer­ing in Kash­mir while Afghanistan holds Pak­istan re­spon­si­ble for its own long years of duress as a na­tion em­broiled in a de­bil­i­tat­ing war of ter­ror. But Pak­istan also has long­stand­ing com­plaints against In­dian in­tel­li­gence for its role in sup­port­ing an in­sur­gency in Balochis­tan as well as against Afghan and In­dian in­tel­li­gence

to­gether, for their joint role in fos­ter­ing and sus­tain­ing in­sur­gency in FATA.

Add to it the re­cent rev­e­la­tions of how both Saudi Ara­bia and Iran might be en­gaged in parts of Pak­istan in an on­go­ing sec­tar­ian war and it forms a full spec­trum of threats that are ar­rayed against Pak­istan. The con­ven­tional dic­tates of in­tel­li­gence sup­port to mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions are over and above this. Given Afghanistan’s pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion, the need for ef­fec­tive and di­verse in­tel­li­gence ca­pac­ity on Pak­istan’s western borders be­comes an even big­ger ex­is­ten­tial im­per­a­tive.

The In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) is a mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tion en­trusted with most of the tasks men­tioned above. Since Kash­mir re­mains a bone of con­tention be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan – with both na­tions hav­ing fought al­most four wars over it – and wa­ter now an added im­pe­tus to the im­por­tance of Kash­mir, as most rivers orig­i­nate from there – it will be ISI’s prime fo­cus to read In­dian de­signs. In such a sit­u­a­tion, if there is a need for de­fen­sive mea­sures, the ISI will en­sure that their in­sti­tu­tion pro­vides them.

Mostly, of­fen­sive in­tel­li­gence must marry with po­lit­i­cal and the mil­i­tary ma­neu­vers, and the over­all na­tional ob­jec­tive. An in­tel­li­gence out­fit will, thus, not only have the ca­pac­ity for de­fense, it must also have the ca­pac­ity to or­ches­trate an of­fen­sive de­signed to weaken the en­emy’s de­fen­sive ca­pac­ity. This re­mains ISI’s pri­mary func­tion and fo­cus, sim­i­lar to that of many other in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tions in the world. The CIA is cred­ited with launch­ing the Oper­a­tion Olympic Games to in­ter­fere elec­tron­i­cally with Iran’s ef­forts at nu­clear en­rich­ment; the Chi­nese are al­leged to use their in­tel­li­gence to ei­ther dis­rupt or steal in­for­ma­tion from many Amer­i­can tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies. Any­thing that such pre­mium in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tions un­der­take will feed into na­tional ob­jec­tives with div­i­dends that add to the na­tional cause.

Why then this hoopla over the re­cent episodes of a prom­i­nent jour­nal­ist be­ing shot at and the chan­nel for whom he works lay­ing the blame at the door of the ISI? Why is the ISI so eas­ily the tar­get of any­thing that goes wrong in In­dia or Afghanistan? Why is it that the ISI re­mains a tar­geted or­ga­ni­za­tion for any­one who means to weaken Pak­istan’s de­fen­sive po­ten­tial?

In a na­tion where the form and na­ture of threats is mul­ti­far­i­ous, where a na­tion seems to be on the verge of im­plo­sion be­cause of mul­ti­ple fault­lines, where ex­ter­nal agents of in­sta­bil­ity seem to be per­va­sive and where the mil­i­tary and its agencies are per­ceived to be the fi­nal im­ped­i­ment in dis­sem­bling Pak­istan, such pres­sure is rou­tinely ex­er­cised by agents of desta­bi­liza­tion within and with­out to strate­gi­cally dis­arm Pak­istan.

It is not to say that the ISI or any other agency has never faulted in con­cep­tion or ex­e­cu­tion or in the man­ner of ex­er­cis­ing its in­flu­ence in the po­lit­i­cal do­main of the coun­try far be­yond its con­ceived mis­sion. But equally true is the fact that it was politi­cians who changed its scope of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and added do­mes­tic pol­i­tics and other re­lated is­sues of gov­er­nance and pol­i­tick­ing to its man­i­festo of du­ties. This is clearly marked by Mr. Bhutto’s au­tho­riza­tion to form a po­lit­i­cal cell in the ISI to fur­ther his own po­lit­i­cal agenda.

What be­gan in 1976 has been far dif­fi­cult to shed, though in the last few years the ISI has made a clear de­vi­a­tion from any such in­volve­ment and has fas­tid­i­ously at­tempted to re­main fo­cused on only the strate­gic chal­lenges. At times, high on its new­found free­dom, the me­dia has ir­ri­tated the ISI, blam­ing it for com­mit­ting ex­cesses. Added is an­other pro­cliv­ity within cer­tain sec­tions of the me­dia to turn the spot­light on the mil­i­tary and con­tin­u­ously force the is­sue of ei­ther dis­ap­pear­ances or the en­ti­tle­ments that the mil­i­tary and its agencies may seem to en­joy. It seems that the aim is to hit at the cred­i­bil­ity of the army as an in­sti­tu­tion and dis­credit it in the pub­lic – where it re­mains the most pop­u­lar and well-sup­ported in­sti­tu­tion.

While the me­dia pro­pounds the role of the fourth pil­lar of the state for it­self, its pace is far too rapid for its own real ca­pac­ity. An ef­fort to place it­self against an in­sti­tu­tion as wellor­ga­nized as the ISI to gain rel­e­vance and cred­i­bil­ity is a wrong way of es­tab­lish­ing in­sti­tu­tional cre­den­tials. The fact that it also hits at a na­tion’s strength makes it an in­sid­i­ous play. What we need are par­lia­men­tary over­sight mech­a­nisms sim­i­lar to those preva­lent in the de­vel­oped world to make in­tel­li­gence ac­count­able to a cred­i­ble watch­dog. What is cur­rently be­ing fol­lowed to that end through the me­dia is flawed and dan­ger­ous.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.