By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: The �ISI fiasco� has proved yet again that the present regime has very little faith in institutionalised decisions. Last week�s official order issued to shift the ISI and the IB to the Interior Ministry without consulting the federal cabinet, any parliamentary body or the stakeholders is one such example.
It was all done in indecent haste and without even going through any detailed inter-ministerial consultation between the ministries of defence, interior, cabinet, etc. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior, Rehman Malik, and his secretary Syed Kamal Shah had reportedly persuaded Asif Ali Zardari to get the Rules of Business amended to bring the ISI under the Interior Ministry apparently for better coordination between the intelligence agencies.
While Rehman Malik was initially reported to have claimed that the decision to shift the ISI and the IB was taken with the consent of the president and the Army chief, but later he told a private television channel in London, on his way to Washington, that he was not aware of any notification about putting the chief spying agency under the ministry�s control.
Hamid Mir of Geo�s �Capital Talk� told The News that he spoke to Rehman Malik on July 26, the day the contentious notification was issued, for almost 20 minutes and the adviser had assured him that the decision was taken in consultation with President Musharraf, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Asif Ali Zardari. But on July 27, the private TV channel quoted Malik as saying he was not aware of any notification.
Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah, who interestingly was granted further extension in his contractual appointment the same day when the ISI and the IB were brought under the Interior Ministry�s control, was fully in picture.
An influential PPP lady MNA, who is very close to the Zardari House, told this correspondent on condition of anonymity that Kamal Shah was the actual initiator of the contentious move. He got another job extension for the same reason, she maintained.
Although Kamal Shah was not available for his comments, an official of the Interior Ministry claimed that Shah, too, was in the dark regarding the move. The Zardari House sources, however, say that Siraj Shamsuddin, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Kamal Shah were the two bureaucrats who were assigned to get the things finalised while the notification was issued by the Cabinet Division. These sources quoted Siraj to have asked Kamal Shah to consult about the draft of the notification with the GHQ prior to its issuance by the Cabinet Division, but it was not done.
The Cabinet Division on Saturday last had formally notified, through an amendment in the Rules of Business, the Prime Minister�s approval for the placement of the Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division with immediate effect.
The Cabinet Division also did not find it appropriate to consult all the stakeholders before issuing the same notification, which was not formally withdrawn till Monday afternoon. Interior Ministry sources said that the verbal order of the prime minister withdrawing the July 26 decision had been conveyed to all concerned. However, the formal reversal would be done upon the PM�s return from the US.
Late on the night of July 26, the government, through PID, issued a clarification that the ISI will continue to perform its functions under the prime minister, adding that the notification regarding its control was being misinterpreted. The PID added that the notification only re-emphasised more coordination between the Ministry of Interior and the ISI in relation to the war on terror and internal security.
Actually, the original Cabinet Division memorandum did not talk of the war on terror or the internal security. While the intelligence agencies in different parts of the world, including in the US, Britain and India, report directly to the country�s chief executive, be it the president or the prime minister, the government in Pakistan took a rare decision of placing the elite intelligence agencies under a Federal Division headed by an unelected adviser for all operational, administrative and financial purposes.
The ISI is one of the most professional and well-equipped intelligence networks in the world, controversies regarding its interference in politics and in the making and breaking of governments notwithstanding. Considered as the first line of country�s defence, the ISI�s effectiveness on matters of internal and external security has made it a villain for the countries like the United State, India and now even Afghanistan.
The slain Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had once desired to have an effective intelligence agency like the ISI for India. However, there has been a general demand that the ISI�s political wing should be abolished and the agency should not be dragged into affairs that exclusively fall in the domain of the politicians.
During Benazir Bhutto�s first tenure, a committee under retired Air Chief Zulfiqar was constituted to review the role of the intelligence agencies, including the ISI. The committee, apart from other things, also sought depoliticisation of the ISI. The then ISI chief also wrote to the government seeking the abolition of its Political Cell. However, it was not done.
During the past eight years� rule of General Musharraf the ISI saw an all-time high involvement in politics. It was not only used to create the �King�s Party� but was also involved to manoeuvre the 2002 general elections to the benefit of Musharraf.
It was also dragged into the judicial crisis, which, too, had become a personal thing for the military ruler. Although the present ISI-connected controversy caused a lot of embarrassment to the PPP government, it could be converted into a golden opportunity to implement Air Marshal Zulfiqar�s recommendations and rid the agency of its political role for the interest of democracy, the agency itself and the country.