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SVA role for ISI: Politicians of all hues equate move with ‘ceding civilian space’

ISLAMABAD: Political leaders, from across the divide, have reacted to the government move to notify the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as Special Vetting Agency (SVA) for screening civil servants, describing the move as “surprising” and tantamount to “giving up civilian space.”

Leaders of the three main political parties – PML-N, PPP and PTI – said the additional task of screening civil servants would added to the burden of the country’s premier agency negatively, keeping in view of the situation on the eastern and western borders.

The reaction came a day after the government notified that the premier spy agency will screen civil servants before induction, appointments and postings, as well as promotions.

The otherwise staunch opponents, appeared to be in unison, over the issue and said that the ISI is already fighting a “complicated war” within and outside the country and this “unwarranted responsibility” will act as a distracter for the world-famed intelligence agency. “The situation in Afghanistan, Kashmir, internal terrorism and related issues…and other developments shaping up around the world warrant a proactive approach and this new role will definitely impact the ISI performance,” they pointed out.

Traditionally, the official sources say, the ISI used to vet the clearance of the bureaucrats but the new move has formlaised the vetting of officials by the ISI.

PPP stalwart and former Senate chairman Senator Raza Rabbani said the notification allowing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to screen civil servants was amounted to “ceding civilian space”.

He said the notification indicated a lack of confidence in the civilian apparatus of the state, adding that this move will also blur the distinction between the civil and military bureaucracy.

The Constitution as well as the Civil Servants Act, 1973, were comprehensive laws and did not require screening of civil servants, he noted.

Another PPP senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar also criticised the government move. “The prime minister is requested to include all the ‘Public Office Holders’ in the proposed notification at once. Why discriminate against politicians? After all, traitors are more common in our ranks!,” he sarcastically remarked in a tweet.

Sources revealed that the decision was taken in a recent federal cabinet meeting but was kept hidden, adding that the ISI had already started working and sought data of government officers and their families from the departments concerned.

With the special status and powers, they said, the spy agency would keep an eye on the moral and financial affairs of the government officers and would submit details to the promotion boards, especially the high-powered board and Central Selection Board (CSB).

On the other hand, leaders of PML-N and PTI — agreed on Saturday that the country’s premier spy agency should be under civilian control and answerable to the parliament after the PML-N-led coalition government gave the agency legal cover to screen civilian officials.

PML-N leader and former information minister Pervaiz Rasheed said on Twitter that if the ISI was being tasked with vetting civilian officials, then the spy agency should be placed under civilian control and be answerable to parliament.

Taking to his twitter handle on Saturday, PTI leader Fawad Ch said: “The institution (ISI) has to think about what role it wants to play in Pakistan’s politics.” “A discussion is needed on the new roles of civil institutions and institutions after the media revolution,” he tweeted.

“Absolutely correct,” wrote former human rights minister and PTI leader Shireen Mazari in response to Fawad Ch’s Tweet. “This debate is critical for the future of democracy in Pakistan.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also expressed concern over the government’s decision.

“Even if this practice was already in place, it goes against democratic norms. The role of the military in civilian affairs needs to recede if Pakistan is to move forward as a democracy,” the HRCP stated.

According to the official, notwithstanding the notification, the IB will continue to send its reports as per routine. The official said that since the government has now given legal effect to reports issued by the ISI, and these could henceforth be used in courts as a valid legal document.

However, a former Estab­lish­ment Division secretary disagreed. He noted that though the prime minister has the power to amend or make rules for the bureaucracy, it would have been better if the Establishment Division would have issued a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) to amend the Appointments, Promotions and Transfer (APT) Rules governing the civil bureaucracy if it wanted to give the ISI formal charge of the vetting process.

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