Agencies have long held monopoly over patriotism
Better late than never. The intelligence agencies have been finally put in the dock. The Supreme Court has finally taken up the missing persons case in which many of those wanted for different acts of terrorism were picked up and later found dead in mysterious circumstances.
The other case that the apex court has finally showed the courage to take up for hearing is the Asghar Khan’s plea gathering dust in SC since 1996. The now octogenarian politician had alleged in his petition that politicians were bribed by the ISI to form an anti PPP alliance in 1990.
According to an affidavit submitted by the ISI, its former Director General Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani distributed Rs 140 million among anti PPP politicians in 1996 on the directions of the then Army Chief General Aslam Beg. The list, which mentions Nawaz Sharif as the biggest recipient having received Rs 3.5 million, reads like who is who of politicians, some of them deceased now but many of them still active.
Of course, one can lament the role of the agencies in bribing politicians. But it is also a sad commentary on the selective morality that our politicos preach when accusing their peers of corruption but rarely practise.
Mian Nawaz Sharif the other day, while informally talking to a group of journalists, candidly admitted to having received ISI funds with the caveat that he had not asked for them but was simply given the money. The question that begs an answer here is why in the first place did he accept the tainted money?
Perhaps, in this case the end justified the means: to forge an anti PPP alliance in the form of Islami Democratic Alliance (IJI), midwifed by the GHQ. The recipients of the funds included luminaries like Mohammad Khan Junejo, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Pir Pagara and even a number of honourable right wing journalists.
The PPP, not without justification, complains that the ubiquitous Pakistani establishment has never reconciled to its role as the largest political party of the country. It has indeed been dubbed as a security risk even by powerful sections of the bureaucracy, the industrial elite and the media. Nevertheless, it has managed to win elections four times since its inception.
Mian Nawaz Sharif, after not being able to get along with any of the military chiefs while in power, has perhaps belatedly realised that the military establishment does not brook any powerful civilians who have the temerity to challenge its suzerainty. The PML(N), being no longer the favourite of the establishment, which created it, has openly accused the ISI of launching Imran Khan to cut it down to size in its citadel.
Another petition seeking for the abolition of the “political wing” of the ISI has been filed in the Supreme Court. It will be interesting to note whether the spy agency would even admit that such a cell has ever existed.
In the mid nineties, as editor of The Nation, the paper I had founded, I was summoned by the then head of the ISI General Nasim Rana to complain about an editorial suggesting that the agency should close down its political cell. The General informed me with a straight face that such a cell did not exist, so how could it be closed down?
Anyone remotely familiar with the working and mindset of the intelligence agencies would vouch for their role in manipulating and engineering political events in the country. Whether the political wing formally exists or not, it is amply evident now that everything has been kosher for our intelligence agencies.
With the advent of a fiercely independent higher judiciary and an assertive media the role of the agencies is now being openly debated. Proportionately, the capacity of the spy agencies to manipulate governments of their liking is also diminishing. With the formation of an independent election commission and a clear-cut course for formation of caretaker governments to conduct free and fair election, this kind of manipulation hopefully will become even more difficult.
The surprisingly bold remarks of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Ifthikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, made in the missing persons case make interesting reading. The Chief Justice, who back in 2007 was told by a bevy of generals headed by General Musharraf, with Shaukat Aziz in tow, to resign, informed the counsel of the ISI and the Military Intelligence (MI) saying that patriotism was not their monopoly.
The role of the intelligence agencies in the troubled province of Balochistan, already being debated in the media, has come under scrutiny in the missing persons case. The Chief Justice has rightly inquired under which law and by which agency are people being picked up without leaving a trace?
As usual “the supreme national interest” has been invoked by the agencies to justify their intrusive role in the province. Their counsel claimed that, “only those who played into the hands of the enemies of our dearest homeland, Pakistan, were being chased and hounded.”
Unsurprisingly, monopoly over patriotism has been invoked to justify denying basic human rights to a large swath of the people of Balochistan, and for that matter the rest of the country. Now that the role of the intelligence agencies has come under scrutiny by the superior judiciary and the commentariat, it is time to reset it.
The mandated role of these agencies cannot be denied. However, no one should be allowed to get away with murder (literally, in this case) in the name of a misplaced definition of patriotism and national interest. In the past, efforts to bring the ISI under some form of civilian control have been fiercely resisted.
Already the judiciary and the media albeit belatedly are proving to be some sort of check on the activities of the spy outfits. However, it is still too little too late. For example, report of the judicial commission to inquire into the death of journalist Saleem Shehzad remained inconclusive.
The judicial commission to determine the circumstances which led to taking out of Osama bin Laden from his Abbottabad hideout last May is yet to finalise its findings. Balochistan remains a festering wound despite the hue and cry about it.
Perhaps the formation of a bi-partisan parliamentary committee to determine and scrutinise the role of the intelligence agencies is an idea whose time has come. There has been talk about giving another extension to the ISI Chief General Shuja Pasha who is due to retire on March 18. According to some reports, he neither wants one nor is he seeking it. Such extensions in service are not a good idea in any case. His successor should be announced asap.
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today