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Friday, 6 March 2009

Khaled Ahmed: How blameless is the ISI?

Source: The Friday Times , Pakistan | Khaled Ahmed

General (Retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi is counted among the rare competent heads of the ISI. His tenure, beginning 1993, was professional and non-idiosyncratic. He had to clear up the mess created by his idiosyncratic predecessor who had undergone a pathological change called the ‘born again’ phenomenon, an affliction that was to claim General Mehmood too later on. Compared to General Hameed Gul, who paraded before the nation as a prime example of ‘reverse indoctrination’, General Javed Ashraf Qazi remained true to the national agenda. On 19 March 2002, President Musharraf announced that he planned a revamp of the intelligence services of the country, which has raised hopes for the revival and reform of this much neglected and misused agency]

No single state organisation is as discussed and argued over ‘unofficially’ as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). People have a vague impression that the ISI conducts the covert war in Indian-occupied Kashmir while also doing ‘political work’ for the incumbent government inside Pakistan. The politicians think the ISI watches over them and at times punishes them for stepping out of line.

On 18 March 2002, for the first time in the career of the ISI, the PTV decided to discuss the organisation with an ex-boss of the ISI, General (Retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi, currently railways minister in the Musharraf government. The general was in an aggressive mood thinking that the ISI had been unfairly treated to false accusations while it could not defend itself. He said the task of the ISI was to gather strategic intelligence and do counter-intelligence in the districts of Pakistan with 90 percent of its employees coming from the army. He claimed that army officers could not become entrenched in the ISI because their tenure was restricted to three years, unless they were re-posted. He said the politicians lied when they said that they had been toppled by the ISI.

Both Ms Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have complained about the interference of the army. Ms Bhutto’s accusation is worth paying attention to because her party has never found favour with the army. In her first tenure she chose a retired general of her liking to head the ISI but the ISI officers ignored him and in fact isolated him in the organisation. General Qazi says that the ISI boss can fire his officers if they are insubordinate. But officers Brigadier Imtiaz Billa and Major Amir took it upon themselves to side with Nawaz Sharif and topple Ms Bhutto through the rigging of a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly. The officers were caught red-handed. Ms Bhutto was likewise able to prove to the army chief General Aslam Beg that the ISI chief Hameed Gul was involved in a conspiracy to topple her, whereupon the culprit was actually promoted as he was removed from the ISI command. That army officers posted again and again to the ISI tend to misuse it is proved by the likes of Brigadier Imtiaz Billa and Major Amir, as mentioned in Brigadier Tirmazi’s memoirs, Profiles of Intelligence. The other proof of the dereliction of duty of the ISI is that three ISI chiefs were prematurely retired from the army and two others went under a cloud of suspicion.

General Qazi said that Pakistani journalists were of two categories. The left wing liberal journalist could be bought by India for two bottles of whisky while the right wing journalists were patriotic. The job of the ‘purchased’ journalist was to pick up disinformation published in India and print it in Pakistan as his own investigative work. The ISI did not meddle in journalism and there was nothing that Pakistani journalists could do for the ISI in the field of intelligence gathering. He said that the special number of an English monthly in Karachi reported that India’s fugitive terrorist Daud Ibrahim (not named) was in Karachi, thus damaging Pakistan’s prestige. He did not appear sure whether Daud Ibrahim was really living in Karachi and running his underworld business there.

The bias of General Qazi is the bias of his profession, the army. All armies in the world are right wing and do not like people who violate the unwritten law of patriotism. The charge against the left wing journalist is too sweeping, just as it would too sweeping to damn the right wing journalists by pointing to some of them who drink themselves under the table on foreign whisky. In fact, a right wing journalist hides behind his patriotism even when he is caught trying to molest a cleaning woman in America. The special issue of Newsline that published the story of Daud Ibrahim was purely investigative and took the lid off a ham-handed operation by the ISI. What the general implies is that certain investigative stories should be shelved in the name of patriotism. This would be difficult to do anywhere in the world. It would be impossible to suppress information about an underworld gangster simply because he had been a part of an ISI operation. If Pakistan was damaged in the process, and General Musharraf was wrongly compelled to tell Vajpayee in Agra that he was unaware of Daud Ibrahim’s residence in Pakistan, the blame must not go to the ‘liberal’ journalist.

General Qazi was at pains to explain that the ISI did not dabble in politics and that the army officers did not break the line of command to push their personal agendas. He was however forced to admit that three ISI chiefs were removed and prematurely retired because they erred in the line of duty. His explanation was that the ISI was forced into becoming a political trouble-shooter because of the ‘tasking’ by the prime minister. Sometimes this ‘tasking’ came from the president and the army chief. This challenges the moral authority of not only the prime minister but also the president and the army chief. He admitted that the ISI chiefs like Hameed Gul did something wrong by pushing their own agendas, but then they had been punished and, once removed, had no influence on the ISI.

The general’s defence of the ISI falls to the ground when he admits that three ISI chiefs were retired prematurely by the army chiefs because they violated the charter of their duties. If the tenure is three years for each chief then nine years in the life of the ISI should be considered lost. General Kallu was not a serving general when he was made the ISI chief but in his tenure the ISI was in a state of revolt and there was rampant insubordination by the likes of Brigadier Imtiaz Billa and Major Amir. That should take another three years from the life of the ISI. During Nawaz Sharif’s last tenure, General Ziauddin as the ISI chief, fell foul of the army and thus hamstrung the ISI in the same manner as General Kallu. After him, General Mahmud misused the ISI and ran counter to the policy of the army chief, till his rebellion and administrative tantrums could no longer be tolerated. It is in his tenure that psychopath terrorists like Sheikh Umar, already in the open after the Kandahar hijack, were allowed to roam free. The report about his ‘freedom of movement’ was not planted by a left wing journalist but was a fact for anyone in Lahore who saw Sheikh Umar running an al-Qaeda office in the city. General Mahmood’s offer of insult to the Pakistani diplomats in an envoys’ conference is now well known. The man had a personal agenda and would not listen to an objective assessment of his Taliban policy. The phenomenon of Hameed Gul is so blatant in Pakistan that the ISI will have to do more than just give verbal denials about his influence among the ISI hierarchy.

General Qazi was most upset over the charge that the ISI ran the Afghan policy and was deeply involved in the running of the Taliban government, provided assistance in the various victories of the Taliban in the North of Afghanistan. He said no ISI agent was ever caught by Ahmad Shah Massoud although he had prisoners taken from among the private Pakistanis who had gone to fight alongside the Taliban out of religious conviction. He said if a retired ISI officer linked himself to the Taliban and fought their war it was no concern of the ISI. The general did not reply to the question as to why the ISI took no action against ex-ISI officers who turned ‘rogue’ after their service in the ISI was over.

Ahmad Shah Massoud had insisted that at least over a dozen officers he had caught belonged to the Pakistan army and the ISI. Pakistan’s response was that they were not serving officers but had actually retired from service. General Qazi would be hard put to resolve the dilemma about officers who developed their personal agendas while in service then took them forward after retirement. The biggest examples of this were General Hameed Gul, and General Javed Nasir. How can an intelligence organisation survive if so many of its officers turn rogue through reverse indoctrination? How many officers of RAW have turned rogue and followed their own agenda? When General Qazi took over in 1993 he found that his predecessor Javed Nasir had kept ISI’s foreign exchange in the controversial Mehran Bank. It goes to his credit that he rescued his organisation through some daring and honest initiatives, but nothing was done about punishing the earlier deed. The Supreme Court has taken cognisance of a similar embezzlement in which the ISI chief General Asad ‘Mad’ Durrani was implicated. How many of the RAW chiefs speak in the open after retirement? Why is it that all the ISI chiefs who choose to become public figures after retirement display very poor level of personal IQ? How can an intelligence agency survive if it is run consistently by people of low intelligence? Why is the Pakistani citizen compelled to name the ISI in local incidents of terrorism while the Indian citizen does not suspect RAW? If the Pakistani citizen has been undermined by the propaganda of the enemy, whose fault is it anyway? The left wing liberal journalist could not have achieved this defeat of the ISI single-handedly.

General Qazi was quite strong in his condemnation of the jehadi organisations after their role against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan had come to an end. He called them terrorists and, barring one or two organisations who fought inside Indian Kashmir, considered them all fake. Here there was only implied criticism of the ISI. Why did the ISI not take action against the fake jehadi organisations that did terrorism in Pakistan and committed other crimes? The general seemed to think that the ISI was not to blame for this and saw no dereliction of duty on the part of the ISI in this regard.

Now that General Qazi has accused the jehadi organisations of being terrorists, one must study the attitude of some of his predecessors. Both General Hameed Gul and General Javed Nasir are committed to these jehadi organisations. General Gul was a member of the cross-the-board jehadi council doing advocacy for what are now perceived as terrorist organisations. General Javed Nasir is organising the Deobandi mother organisation Tableeghi Jamaat. The current chairman of Kashmir Committee, Sardar Qayyum, as reported in Khabrain of 19 March 2002, seems to be blaming the ISI for pampering outfits like Jaish and desperadoes like Masood Azhar. Once Masood Azhar was released from the Indian jail, who gave him training facilities for the raising of Jaish Muhammad? Was the ISI innocent in this case? When Masood Azhar was issuing threatening statements against the army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, why was the ISI trying to shelter him? Why was the ISI ‘escorting’ Masood Azhar in Sindh where his entry was banned? Deputy Commissioner Larkana discovered that the warriors guarding Masood Azhar were actually ISI agents.


Also read:

ISI and Our Corrupt Generals - An Analysis

Army and ISI as victims? - An analysis of Musharraf's concerns...

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