ISI’s political cell

ISI’s political cell

After taking up a 1996 petition of Tehrik-i-Istiqlal chief Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan, the Supreme Court has categorically stated that a political cell in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and any extra-constitutional interference in Pakistan’s democracy is unacceptable.

In his petition, Asghar Khan accused the ISI of dishing out over Rs 140 million to various right-wing politicians and parties during the 1990 elections to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) alliance to defeat the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). A prickly truth that has surfaced during the hearings is that the political cell was created during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tenure. In 1973, when Mr Bhutto dismissed the Balochistan government of Sardar Ataullah Mengal, the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) government led by Mufti Mahmud of JUI resigned in protest. This was followed by the start of an insurgency in Balochistan, during which the ISI was carrying out political actions as well as black operations.

Mr Bhutto’s idea of creating a cell was simple: The ISI, in the aftermath of the breakaway of what is now called Bangladesh, needed some teeth to manage the politics of an unstable Pakistan. But the chickens have come home to roost by now. During the Afghan war, under General Ziaul Haq and General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, the ISI and its political cell swelled to become the Frankenstein’s monster that it has become today. Today, the cell and its mother organisation stand accused of interfering in political matters and carrying out covert operations left, right, and centre while operating with absolute impunity and terror.

As most things are when it comes to the agencies, this issue is murky and perhaps deliberately shrouded in secrecy. The notification that was issued to set up the cell in the first place in 1975 has not yet been located according to Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi. Regardless of the circumstances or context of the creation of the cell, the time has come to abolish it. There is no place for such subversive cells in a democratic polity. If the cell continues to function, then the democratic political process is in grave danger of being manipulated and distorted as in the past.

Another issue to note is that a 2009 judgment of the apex court observed that a political cell cannot operate in the intelligence agency, so why has the court not insisted on the implementation of its verdict as it has in other high profile cases against civilian politicians? All over Pakistan, but especially in Balochistan, corpses bearing the signs of torture keep turning up, among them lawyers, activists, journalists, students and farm workers. Why is no one investigating what has come to be known as Pakistan’s Dirty War?

The forces of law and order appear to remain indifferent with not a single person being arrested, investigated or prosecuted. The country’s powerful military and its intelligence agencies must be held accountable.There is a dire need for civilian oversight here. The ISI must report to the Prime Minister instead of operating with the impunity it is currently enjoying. Although Yousaf Raza Gilani and Farhatullah Babar’s attempts in this regard proved stillborn, the government must continue to press for it regardless. – Dailytimes