Why not a civilian head of ISI?

By Kamran Shafi

Courtesy: Daily Dawn, Tuesday, 17 Nov, 2009

IN view of the fact that the cardinal sin of the federal government to try and put the ISI under civilian control is cited as a reason behind all the obituaries presently being written about the imminent fall of a) just the president; b) all the major politicians; and c) the whole shoot, I’ve been trolling through the Internet to see how just many of the world’s top intelligence services are headed by serving military (in Pakistan’s case, read ‘army’) officers. And how many are appointed by the army chief. Consider what I’ve come up with.

Except for two retired army officers in the early days, one a lieutenant colonel the other a major general, all the DGs of MI5, the “United Kingdom’s internal counter-intelligence and security agency were civil servants. The director-general reports to the home secretary, although the Security Service is not formally part of the home office”, and through him to the prime minister.

“The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), colloquially known as MI6 is the United Kingdom’s external intelligence agency. Under the direction of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), it works alongside the Security Service (MI5), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the defence intelligence staff (DIS).” Except for one naval captain, an admiral, a lieutenant colonel and a major general in the very early days, all of them retired, every single chief of this agency has been a ‘bloody civilian’, some from within its own ranks, others from the civil service. The present director is Britain’s former ambassador to the United Nations. The director reports to the chief cabinet secretary and through him to the prime minister.

Directors of Mossad, the dreaded Israeli intelligence agency which seems to be running rings (if reports in our conservative press and on our fire-breathing TV channels are to be believed) around our very own Mother of All Agencies, has been headed mostly by retired military officials (remember please that military service is compulsory in Israel) but also by ‘bloody civilians’. Mossad’s director is appointed by the prime minister and reports directly to him.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency reports to the director of national intelligence (DNI), who in turn reports to the White House. The director is appointed by the president after recommendation from the DNI, and must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate. While there is no statutory provision which specifically excludes active military personnel from being nominated for the position, most directors have been civilians.

Barring Gen Reinhard Gehlen who set up the German intelligence agency Abteilung Fremde Heere Ost to principally keep an eye on the Russian easternfront during the Second World War, the present federal intelligence service, Bundesnachrichtendienst(BND), has always been headed by civilian public officials, notably by civil servant, lawyer and politician of the liberal Free Democratic Party, Klaus Kinkel who rose to be Germany’s federal minister of justice (1991–1992), foreign minister (1992–1998) and vice chancellor of Germany (1993–1998).

Next door in India all directors of RAW have been civilians, either civil servants or policemen or officials from within its own ranks. While the director RAW, also known as ‘Secretary (R)’, is under the direct command of the prime minister, he reports on an administrative basis to the cabinet secretary. However, on a daily basis ‘Secretary (R)’ reports to the national security adviser to the prime minister.

RAW too, if the press and TV channels are to be taken seriously, is running rings around us in close collaboration with Mossad.

So then, why is it that only in our country, our intelligence service is the fief of the army, and only of the army? Surely there are competent people other than generals who could well head the organisation and be a credit to it? I mean if all of the world’s leading agencies can be headed by civilians why not our ISI?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, what is known as the ‘Ghairat Lobby’ has taken yet another drubbing with the most recent report of the LA Times to the effect that ever since 9/11 fully one-third of the CIA’s budget has been diverted to the ISI. It also reminds us brutally what the Commando has already told us in his ‘book’ (stand up, Humayun Gohar): that the ISI sold people, some surely terrorists some very surely innocent, to the Americans for cash payments as low as $5000 a go, and as high as millions of dollars for those who had huge head moneys on offer for their capture/death.

It also tells us that the CIA money was in addition to the $15bn that poured into the country during the Commando’s dictatorship. In the words of the LA Times the ISI, “had also collected tens of millions of dollars through a classified CIA programme that pays for the capture or killing of wanted militants, a clandestine counterpart to the rewards publicly offered by the State Department”. Will the Ghairat Lobby please sit up and take note, and understand that such reports make its ghairatmand stand on the Kerry-Lugar Law all the more ludicrous and hypocritical.

Let me here once more caution the leaders of the major political parties, the PML-N and the PPP: please close ranks and collectively beat back the ongoing assault on democracy by the establishment. Our country simply cannot take another extra-legal intervention (I did not say martial law) to remove any one individual, or two, from the scene. To President Zardari let me say, yet again: do not prevaricate, act now on the Charter of Democracy; break away from the too-clever-by-half -self-servers that you have surrounded yourself with.

To Mr Nawaz Sharif, this: Asif Zardari is not the only target of the establishment, he is only the first. You are next. Consider: if there is an anti-AZ story on one page, there is an anti-NS story on another page of the same newspaper on the same day. The Internet is full of planted stories on both the large political parties; stories that desperately try to turn lay people away from electoral politics. Be prepared for more dirt.

United you politicians will stand, divided you will fall.

P.S. The Balochistan High Court has ordered Musharraf to appear before it in the case of Nawab Akbar Bugti’s murder. How come there is no further reporting on this earth-shaking event, weeks down the line, as if it never happened?


Courtesy and thanks: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/why-not-a-civilian-head-of-isi-719

One thought on “Why not a civilian head of ISI?”

  1. This is with reference to Kamran Shafi’s article ‘Why not a civilian head of ISI ?’ (Nov 17) and Lt Col (R) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt and Rizwan Ashraf’s letters to the editor (Nov 19).

    Lot has been written on the role of ISI without knowing the inside story. The scope of ISI has never been to tackle internal politics of the country. Rather, this organization was established to thwart external elements from damaging the interests of our homeland; whether it be related to defence issues or to those pertaining to media warfare.

    The point under deliberation is having a civilian head of ISI for which I totally agree with Kamran Shafi and would like to add further. His facts about the leading Agencies of the world are absolutely right. And the question of a Civilian head is very much justified. I have a firm belief on the importance of military institutions and their role in strengthening the country’s defence, however, many people don’t know that ISI is constitutionally a ‘Civilian organization’ which was established with a view to support and share the burden of conventional intelligence organizations vis-à-vis military intelligence (MI). Furthermore, armed forces personnel were to serve in ISI on ‘deputation’ for a period of 3-3 1/2 years and then return back to their parent department. This practice aimed at having mutual cooperation and understanding between major pillars of the state i.e. armed forces and ISI.

    ISI has a permanent civilian cadre whose officers serve their entire life in the organization. The desired competency level as illustrated by my fellow friends Mr. Mukhtar and Mr. Rizwan would be more in a person who serves his entire life in one department with all necessary training and experience as compare to some one who is to serve for a limited period and lacks the desired expertise too. However, for the past many years, the irony of fate has been that majority of civilian organizations are headed by an armed forces personnel which is agitating to those who have served their entire life and have the right to be departmental head. If we think that armed forces personnel are the only ones who can run public organizations with the back ground and knowledge of a ‘military unit’, then I think we should not blame others for all the wrong doings in our country. As far as Mr. Mukhtar’s statement that ‘gathering intelligence and co-relating it with the geo political situation of the country is a complicated affair’, I put a question to him as to what is the qualification of a military man? Psc (staff course), war course and so on. Does this have any relation with international politics and diplomacy? Isn’t there any one in the country who is patriotic other than the armed forces personnel? These are the questions which have carved deep marks on the nation and are causing internal rift and hatred.

    I request all concerned to consider the civilians as equally patriotic and responsible as any soldier would be and the impression of ‘bloody civilians’ should be removed from the minds of our so called ‘God fathers’.

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