Despite being declared illegal by the Pakistan supreme court, it seems an uphill task for the fragile civilian government in Islamabad to compel the mighty security establishment to disband the political wing of the ISI and to revert the agency to its original mandate, reports Amir Mir.
In a significant development aimed at putting an end to the interference of the intelligence agencies in national politics, the supreme court of Pakistan declared illegal on Monday the political cell of the notorious Inter Service Intelligence which has been frequently accused of 'engineering' the successive general elections in the country.
The supreme court adjudged the political cell 'void ab initio' -- that is, 'null and void' from the start and ordered its disbandment. If nothing else, the court move is heavily symbolic -- particularly with general elections around the corner in Pakistan.
The decision was taken by a apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in a petition dealing with the direct manipulation of the ISI of the 1990 general elections which were engineered in favour of then Islami Jamhoori Ittehad or Islamic Democratic Alliance led by Nawaz Sharif who eventually defeated Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples' Party to become the prime minister.
The petition, which is commonly referred to as the Asghar Khan case, was filed by a former air marshal (Asghar Khan) way back in 1996 to hold accountable the ISI for dishing out millions of rupees to anti-PPP politicians during President Ghulam Ishaq Khan's regime to maneouver the 1990 elections.
Those made respondents in the case were Mirza Aslam Beg, former chief of army staff, retired Lt General Asad Durrani, ex-director-general of ISI directorate, and Younis Habib, ex-chief of ex-Mehran Bank Ltd, then confined in Central Jail, Karachi.
In his written reply submitted with the supreme court, General Beg had conceded that it had been a routine for the ISI to support the favourite candidates in elections under directives of the successive chief executives. He had stated in his reply: "The receipt of Rs 140 million by the ISI from Younas Habib in 1990 was under the directions of the chief executive. The ISI director-general also informed me that funds so received were properly handled and the accounts were maintained. I had also briefed the then President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the matter".
The election was subsequently won by the IJI led by Sharif, who had allegedly received Rs 3.5 million from the ISI for his election campaign. Nawaz, however, denies receiving any money from the premier intelligence agency.
Despite repeated orders by the apex court during past hearings in the case, the attorney general failed to produce the notification under which the political wing of the ISI was allegedly established in May 1975 by the then Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government.
During the court proceedings on July 16, 2012, the supreme court had once again asked the attorney general to produce the notification. On another failure to produce the same, a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Chaudhry, took its own action which must have been taken with a pinch of salt by the all powerful security and intelligence establishment of the country.
The court proceedings echoed with pro-democracy comments. The court order mentioned the disqualification of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the SC judgment of 31 July, 2009, followed by subsequent judgments, which made it abundantly clear that the affairs of the country would only be governed strictly under the constitution, with no interference from institutions other than those given powers under the constitution.
Interestingly, the apex court orders declaring illegal the political wing of the ISI came hardly a week after the Zardari-led PPP government decided to clip the wings of the all-powerful agency through parliamentary legislation.
A 19-page draft bill prepared by none other than Farhatullah Babar, the official spokesman of President Asif Zardari, was not only aimed at disbanding the political wing of the ISI but also to make it fully accountable to the elected parliament and the civilian government.
The proposed Inter Services Intelligence Agency (Functions, Powers and Regulation) Act, 2012 (which has yet to be taken up by the upper house of the parliament) suggested that the ISI should be answerable to the parliament and the prime minister.
The bill recommended internal accountability and a better discipline system within the ISI to put an end to enforced disappearances of civilians and victimisation of the political parties and their workers and leaders.
In fact, the ISI has always been accused of being actively involved in managing political activity both inside and outside the government and making or breaking of the political parties and political alliances for well over the past three decades. The ISI's reputation as a state within a state is well established in Pakistan and is a general knowledge thing. It became an autonomous and powerful arm of the military regime under General Ziaul Haq during the Afghan jehad against the Soviet forces in the1980s.
Subsequently, after the death of Zia and the restoration of democracy in 1988, the then director general of the ISI Lt Gen Hameed Gul helped form the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad to try and stop Benazir Bhutto's PPP from sweeping into power.
However, the elevation General Ashfaq Kayani to the coveted slot of DG ISI and then to the army chief in 2008, which was an unprecedented act, simply opened the route for a complete merger of the ISI with General Headquarters of the Army, with officers routinely to-ing and fro-ing from one headquarter to the other.
Henceforth, the right of the prime minister to nominate the DG ISI was negated by the right of the army chief to nominate his own man to such a sensitive job.
General Ahmad Shuja Pasha (DG-ISI 2009-2012) was nominated by General Kayani, promoted by him to the rank of lieutenant general and given two extensions in his tenure, eventually making him to implicate the incumbent PPP government in the infamous Memogate scam.
To tell the truth, the civilian government in Pakistan has been trying to seize control of the ISI since assuming power in Islamabad following the 2008 general elections. When Asif Zardari set up the PPP government in 2008, he tried to seize control of the internal political wing of the ISI by proposing its command and control in the interior ministry.
However, the GHQ-ISI-combine thwarted this move despite the fact that the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had made an announcement to this effect on November 23, 2008 saying that the political wing of the Inter-Service Intelligence had been disbanded. He said that the move would improve the effectiveness of the ISI as one of the premier institutions of national security apparatus of the country."
But practically speaking, the security and intelligence establishment never implemented the government's decision and the political wing of the ISI has remained functional since then.
Therefore, despite being declared illegal by the supreme court, it seems an uphill task for the fragile civilian government in Islamabad to compel the mighty security establishment to disband the political wing of the ISI and to revert the agency to its original mandate, to its basic role of just intelligence gathering.