I’m All Yours, says the ISI

Replugging it with some changes. It was originally published in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI on May 15, 2011


Forces' Chiefs when summoned to the Parliament - speaks a thousand words

In a rare show of Parliament’s supremacy, Pakistan’s military offered itself to Parliament on Friday for accountability. This happened during an in-camera joint session of the Parliament during which Director General of the high profile Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan gave a briefing to the Parliamentarians about the events in Abbotabad that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden by US Special Operations forces on May 2.

That, there should be a joint parliamentary session and that it should be in-camera, was suggested by the Chief of Army Staff according to a recent report by the Time magazine. Smart indeed. Now the people know that the main accused is in the court of the people – democracy wins. But what the accused says, in what manner using what information should remain hidden from the public eye, just like the cash accounts of this main accused.

In-camera character of the Session, although, could not completely hide the proceedings. Musings kept pouring in from the insides of the august hall of the National Assembly throughout those around ten hours of ‘intensive discussion’. When Gen Pasha “surrendered” himself for accountability and graciously offered resignation, he intelligently linked it to the ‘if the parliament says so’ and in case his agency’s negligence is proven. And that’s the time when representatives of the people sitting in the parliament unanimously rejected the resignation option and reportedly reiterated their ‘strong trust in armed forces of Pakistan’. This was despite, if one may remind here, the earlier reports saying the members from one opposition party raised slogans of ‘shame shame’ on Pasha’s briefing. Isn’t that simply perfect?

Pasha reportedly asserted that failure in Abbotabad was not only ISI’s, it should rather be shared by all the law enforcing agencies working in that area including provincial government, local police and other intelligence agencies responsible for security. Valid defense one must concur. It brings us to one big issue, although, that has been largely neglected in whatever our counter-terrorism strategy is (is there any?). Complete lack of any capacity enhancement drive for the local police, and dominance of ISI on all terror related intelligence especially when it comes to Haqqani network and Al-Qaida. This has proven completely chaotic and has to be seriously checked. If the failure should be shared, authority should also be shared.

There was a report presented by Obama Administration to the Congress last April that the Pakistan Government did not have any clear strategy for counter-terrorism. The report obviously did not go very well in Islamabad especially in Aabpara. We are very fond of registering protest on such reports, but one could only hope if Parliamentarians, despite their ‘strong trust in armed forces of Pakistan’, asked this crucial question during the joint session: What evidence do we have to refute this report by Obama Administration? What are the contours of our strategy or even a broad policy for counterterrorism so far? Obviously, such questions could not be asked when a faction of the Parliament, including the ministers, was so keen to give a lease of life to an institution that recently displayed such a big failure.

In their blind pursuit of survival, political parties including elements in the ruling PPP are so bent upon defending ISI and army blocking any genuine quest to hold these institutions accountable to the people of Pakistan. Considering the unbridled power and political influence of army, it seems next to impossible that a sitting civilian government could ever dare to go against this formidable institution in anyway. Despite all the idealism of our urban liberals, no party can dare do so.

Having said that, it’s still un-understandable why such a vehement defense from the civilian government for people who have, beyond any doubt, have frequently overstepped their mandate just to weaken democratic leaders. If ISI could arrange a secret briefing to over twenty selected media persons, only to malign civilian government in these difficult times, what hampered the civilians to at least keep their mouth shut instead of defending the uniform with all this strength?  No one is suggesting that he government should be a part of clash between institutions. But making some institutions behave, is government’s responsibility, which cannot be shed off. People at this moment want the holy cows to be restrained and made accountable. It is high time; it is the most opportune time to do it.

Joint session was not spared of the usual chest thumping with claims of having broken the backbone of Al-Qaida terrorists in the country. Last time we heard these words was from Chief of Army Staff while talking to fresh graduates in Pakistan Military Academy on seven minutes walk from Osama compound, a day earlier to the Abbotabad operation. One wonders if someone questioned their claim of breaking someone’s backbone, during the joint session (don’t forget the ‘shame shame’ slogans here). One gets intrigued listening to these claims though especially while seeing initial reluctance from ISPR to speak up on the fiasco.

The pretext for completely denying any role in the Osama killing that ISI quietly propagated through its mouth pieces in media, was the danger of blowback from militants that could result in further civilian killings in mainland Pakistan. If the backbone-breaking claims are true, what backlash the army or the state feared? Do they think Al-Qaida could hit back fiercely even with a broken backbone? Or is it open confession that those who would stand for Al-Qaida still loom large in the country and are in a position to defeat all security apparatus in Pakistan to kill civilians in terrorist attacks?

Another warning that came out of the Joint Session was Gen. Pasha’s assertion that criticizing army and ISI at this point would be against the national interest. There seems nothing new in the avowal we have been subjected to for half a dozen decades. Linking national interest and armed forces has become a laughable cliché civil and military leaders should better review now. Pertinent to repeat what I wrote last week on these pages, if national interest demands strong armed forces, it is incumbent to let army be accountable and reform itself. Putting the blame on and sharing the failure with local police and civil administration would be a joke sans sense and logic.

Another apposite aide-mémoire here might be of significance. That be, despite the broken backbone, someone is still managing to block Parachanar road and complete erosion of state writ in North and South Waziristan. Let’s have next parliament session in North Waziristan if we have achieved key milestones in fighting terrorists over there. Moreover, our lachrymose moaning about tattered sovereignty in the wake of Abbotabad operation, may also take account of the presence of foreign terrorists calmly havened in North Waziristan, whose presence has been corroborated by intelligence reports on Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and a briefing by Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmood, General Officer Commanding 7-Division in which he confirmed that most of those being hit by drones have been militants from different nationalities including Central and South Asian terrorists.

More important than the killing of top terrorist residing in Pakistan by a foreign force and resultant violation of sovereignty, is the fact that our security and intelligence apparatus could not break the strategic links between Al-Qaida and Taliban (good and bad) and the ideological link between Al-Qaida and the entire terror network working all over Pakistan in broad day light with impunity. The assets we are still keeping in strategic kitty to counter India have been lately going global with the agenda Al-Qaida has been pursuing since last at least two decades. Time to check the serpent before it stings the feeding hand.

Postscript: In separate news items, Indian Prime Minister has offered $500 million for the development in Afghanistan, during his recent visit, which has been welcomed warmly by not only Afghan government, but USA too. Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia has recognized India’s enhanced position as a regional power. Also, when Pasha was convincing the Parliamentarians of the innocence of ISI on Abbotabad operation and parliament was resolving for demanding an immediate seizure in drone strikes failing which NATO route would be blocked, DattaKhel in North Waziristan got a drone strike killing 5.