By Shahzad Raza
20 July, 2012
Senator Farhatullah Babar has proposed a new law to tame the ISI. But his party will not own it
Critics slam the People's Party government for bad governance and corruption, but some ‘rogue elements’ in its ranks is still following the vision of its great leaders.
A recent bid to tame the power Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was one such effort. But the prospects of its success are bleak.
Farhatullah Babar - who had moved the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (Functions, Powers and Regulation) Bill in private capacity - was expecting a backlash, but the reaction has been much more severe than he was expecting. Some of his colleagues advised him to either withdraw or delay the bill.
"We wanted to remain low profile. It is unnecessary to invite media attention. That may sabotage the whole exercise," a source close to the senator quoted him as saying.
The bill, the source said, is now being discussed by a committee of the People's Party. The party hierarchy gives the impression that Farhatullah Babar is alone. Right or wrong, the bill has already received media attention. The stakeholders are now aware and better equipped to thwart the move. Tensions will rise in the days or months ahead.
In the past, President Asif Zardari followed the principle of "run away and live to fight some other day". So far the strategy has worked.
Farhatullah Babar was expecting a backlash, but it was much more severe than he had thought
PPP sources say Senator Babar faced the ire of the pragmatic well-wishers of party leadership. They say there are other immediate and important challenges to overcome, before opening a new front. Can the People's Party afford to add annoyed generals in the list of its rivals that includes furious judges, ruthless columnists, roaring talk-show hosts, and opposition political parties? Critics of the bill argue that it was important to first build public opinion in support of taming the ISI. They cite how the lawyers' movement led to the restoration of top judges.
Farhatullah Babar will hide his disappointment with a satirical smile that has become a part of his personality.
The People's Party has a patchy history with the ISI. They never reconciled with each other, although they have tried to coexist under compulsions. The manoeuvrings of Pakistani intelligence agencies are traditionally crude and mediocre.
The fate of President Zardari hinges on the result of next general elections. The first thing the PML-Nawaz or the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf would do after coming to power is to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against him. The two chiefs - the Chief Justice and Chief of Army Staff - are retiring next year. With two of them gone, the so-called judicial activism and back-stage directions are likely to recede below the danger level.
Pakistan is a victim of self-created Frankenstein's monsters
Let's take a stroll down the memory lane to give the existing circumstances a fair context. If political manipulation is a game, General Ziaul Haq is a champion. In 1985, a handpicked government of Muhammad Khan Junejo was installed as a result of non-party based elections. As soon as Mr Junejo challenged General Ziaul Haq, he was shown the door.
The ISI midwifed the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to counterbalance the People's Party which according to the security establishment might have risked the very existence of the country.
Then head of the ISI Gen Hameed Gul - who later confessed and repented creating the IJI - was instrumental in influencing politicians to forge an alliance against the increasingly popular People's Party. The tactics failed and the PPP formed a government - only to face a number of conspiracies.
In November 1989, Benazir faced a no-confidence motion. The ISI had reportedly launched an operation, rather romantically called "Midnight Jackal", to influence PPP MNAs to support a no-confidence motion against their own prime minister.
"The operation spanned two or three nights," said former chief of Intelligence Bureau Masood Sharif, who is said to have unearthed the whole saga. "The conspirators were caught on video and audio tapes. There was an ISI commander in Islamabad, Major Amir, and Brigadier Imtiaz, who was ISI's in-charge of the internal matters before Benazir Bhutto became prime minister."
Both Brig Imtiaz and Maj Amir denied involvement in any such conspiracy and called Masood Sharif a liar.
The People's Party defeated the no-confidence motion, but only a few months later, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the government on charges of corruption. The elections were scheduled for October 1990.
The ISI undertook another (mis)adventure - now known as the Mehran Bank Scandal. The idea was to distribute millions of rupees to anti-PPP politicians.
After his arrest in 1994, the bank's chief executive, Younis Habib, made startling revelations. In 1996, Air Marshal Asghar Khan filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking action against the ISI officials involved.
The retired air marshal once told this scribe he had come to know about the scandal when it was discussed on floor of the National Assembly. It was actually then interior minister Naseerullah Khan Babar who made the disclosure. The 1990 general elections were said to be the most rigged elections in Pakistan's electoral history.
The Mehran Bank scandal took place when General Aslam Beg was the army chief, and Lt Gen Asad Durrani was heading the ISI. After his retirement, Gen Durrani submitted a list to the Supreme Court containing the names of all those politicians who had received money from the ISI. Since then, the list has been widely published, resulting in denials and refutations from the politicians it mentioned.
Until recently, the Asghar Khan Case had been dumped under heaps of files. Khan sent letters to every chief justice to take up his petition. Finally, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry began regular hearings of the case.
Mehran Bank was not the only tool that used to rig the 1990 elections. Reports suggested President Ghulam Ishaq Khan had established an election cell to manipulate the elections. Lt-General Rafaqat, Ijlal Haider Zaidi and Roedad Khan were said to be members of that cell. All of them later denied their involvement in the rigging.
In 1990, Nawaz Sharif formed a government in the centre. But his stay was short-lived. He could not coexist with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The army intervened, but to the minimum extent that time. Both the prime minister and president resigned and fresh elections were held in 1993.
In 1993 the Pakistan People's Party won and was set for another rough ride. During Benazir Bhutto's second tenure, the ISI was back in business again but this time the PPP government also misused the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
During its tussle with Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, the government used IB to bug the telephones of top judges and keep the prime minister abreast of their moves. Bugging the judges' telephones was one of the charges on the basis of which that government was prematurely dismissed.
In the 1996 general elections, Nawaz Sharif secured a victory, but could not sustain the burden of a so-called heavy mandate. In October 1999, General Musharraf dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup. After about a year he was exiled to Saudi Arabia under an agreement.
General Musharraf needed a political base. In early 2001, a King's Party came into existence. New characters entered the fray. One was Maj Gen Ehtasham Zamir who headed the ISI's political cell.
"We were basically providing the political management, precisely if I can be as civilised as possible, in form of the sponsorship. That's why the King's Party or the ruling party. The sponsorship was very much there of cobbling the likeminded people, which could support the seven-point agenda of President Musharraf. So we were basically acting as mediators between the government and the political system," Gen Zamir told this scribe in 2007.
The pro-Musharraf PML-Q won slightly more than 130 seats in the National Assembly - still short of the required 172 seats to form the government. Then director general of Rangers in Punjab, Hussain Mehdi, lured or coerced several MNAs of the People's Party to switch their loyalties. Prominent among them were Rao Sikander Iqbal and Faisal Saleh Hayat.
Safe and sound under Gen Musharraf's umbrella, the PML-Q government completed its five year tenure.
Before her death in December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was about to provide the US government and the international observers a dossier reportedly containing evidence of rigging. She had a scheduled meeting with the Congressmen Patrick Kennedy and Arlen Spectre on the evening of December 27. But she was assassinated the same day.
A lot of water has flown under the bridges since then. During her lifetime, Benazir Bhutto tried and failed to control the ISI. In 1989, she constituted the Zulfiqar Ali Khan Commission that finalised a set of recommendations to remove the intelligence agencies from political matters.
The commission recommended the IB should have exclusive powers in political matters pertaining to internal security. It also demanded that the ISI must not step into the IB's exclusive domain.
The Zardari-Gilani dispensation tried to follow Benazir Bhutto on those lines but had to withdraw. Perhaps, therefore, the People's Party is reluctant to own Senator Farhatullah Babar's bill.
Pakistan is a victim of self-created Frankenstein's monsters. The problem is that once the monster is unleashed, it cannot be reined in.