Reining in the agencies

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad ChaudhryIn recent days, the Mehrangate case has helped to focus minds on the role of the intelligence agencies.

Nothing sums up this role better than Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s remark during the proceedings that all the (intelligence) agencies were operating beyond their mandate. This truth has been the stuff of urban legend for as long as memory serves. However, there comes a time when tyranny must meet its comeuppance. Whatever is coming out during the case is only the tip of the iceberg. While Naseerullah Babar and Asad Durrani’s statements in-camera before the Supreme Court (SC) may be revealed after the Attorney General said he had no objection to the same, the inquiry reports into the Habib Bank and Mehran Bank scandals will only be presented after the interior secretary returns to the country.

Younis Habib, the main actor in the drama, has filed counter-affidavits to those of General (retd) Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani, praying for a commission of inquiry into the whole affair. That makes little sense when the SC is seized of the matter and making efforts to get to the bottom of things. The court rightly forbade Younis Habib from giving TV interviews during the pendency of the case. The PML-N, meantime, according to Shahbaz Sharif, will sue Younis Habib for defamation for deposing in the court that Shahbaz and Nawaz Sharif were among the beneficiaries of the funds doled out in the affair.

The moral indignation against the PPP’s alleged corruption by the Punjab chief minister however, smacks of an effort to divert attention from these embarrassing revelations and is questionable on the grounds that there are very few politicians clean enough to enjoy the high moral ground in this regard. Meanwhile the sensational revelation that the PPP withdrew Rs 270 million from the Intelligence Bureau’s secret funds to influence the loyalties of PML-N MPAs during the brief governor’s rule in 2009 bears investigation. To add to the general picture of skulduggery, further revelations have been made about the use of Mehran Bank funds to topple Sabir Shah’s PML-N government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the PPP in the past.

Both the Senate and the National Assembly have lately been agitating the need to set up parliamentary committees to probe the issue of missing persons and the role of the agencies in the matter. While the intent of the parliamentarians cannot be decried, the reaction of missing persons’ campaigner Amna Janjua expresses scepticism whether parliamentary resolutions and committees can do much to change the situation on the ground.

Naturally the litmus test is whether parliamentary oversight can rein in the penchant of the agencies to operate outside the parameters of any law, and virtually as a law unto themselves, without fear of accountability and the confidence of longstanding impunity. When the matter of the number of missing persons is yet to be settled, with estimates ranging from 49 (Rehman Malik) to 6,000 (Balochistan Liberation Army), how can effective redress according to the law be achieved? The missing persons commission too has been unable to resolve this conundrum so far. Partly the vastly differing estimates may be because many of the families of missing persons are reluctant to approach the authorities out of a mixture of fear and lack of confidence in the possibility of receiving justice.

But there may also be an effort on the part of the authorities to underestimate the numbers to depreciate the seriousness of the problem. It would seem to be in the fitness of things and in the interests of justice for the missing persons commission to get to the truth about the number of missing persons with an authoritative listing, before the authorities and the intelligence community can be pressurised to produce these unfortunate souls and move on to providing them and their families due process.

Whether it is manipulation and distortion of the political process through bribing politicians of easy virtue or making people disappear, it is certain that the intelligence agencies are a wild bronco unrestrained by any considerations of the law or humanity. The sooner they are reined in to operate within their mandate, which should be elucidated through legislation and rules, the quicker the wounds of their ‘endeavours’ may be healed, not the least within Balochistan. Normal democratic political processes and due process are the only way Pakistan can put this nightmare behind it. – Dilytimes