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Move to place ISI under civilian control

The dreaded Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence, often described as a state within state...

By: PTI | Islamabad |
July 28, 2008 11:31:47 pm

The dreaded Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), often described as a state within state, was placed under the direct control of the civilian authority, a move seen as an effort to clip the wings of the agency, which has the reputation of acting “autonomously”.

Pakistan’s Cabinet Division issued a formal notification placing the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) under the Interior Minister.

“In terms of Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973, the Prime Minister has approved the placement of the Intelligence Bureau and the Inter-Services Intelligence under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division with immediate effect,” said a notification issued by the Government.

The ISI has over the years been seen as acting “autonomously”, though in theory it was answerable to the civilian authority.

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Till now, the ISI, the premier external counter-intelligence outfit, was working under the Defence Ministry, but Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani relocated the agency by placing it under the Interior Ministry, headed by his advisor Rehman Malik, The News daily said.

According to the notification the two spying networks have been “administratively, financially and operationally” placed under Pakistan’s Interior Ministry.

“The relocation of the ISI is misplaced, as it would increase the role of the ISI in internal political affairs,” a senior official was quoted as saying by the Pakistani daily.

A senior security official, however, expressed doubts whether the ISI would work under the interior division, saying it would continue to work in its “previous capacity and framework”.

The Pakistani security official said when the ISI was under the control of the prime minister, “it did not comply with any orders”.

“How is it possible that it will now work unquestioningly under the interior minister,” the official was quoted as saying in the media.

He said a debate had been going on for several years that all intelligence agencies, including the ISI, should work under Pakistan’s civilian set-up so that they could be held accountable to the people.

A former caretaker interior minister, Lt-Gen (retd) Hamid Nawaz, said that all agencies previously used to work under the President of the country and there was a time when all agencies were answerable to the ISI.

He said the decision would not bring about any “qualitative change” in the performance of the agencies. In theory, though, both the agencies would now be answerable to the Prime Minister’s advisor on interior matters, he added.

ISI: a brief history

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the largest and most powerful intelligence service in Pakistan. It is one of the three main branches of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

After the poor performance of Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (MI) during Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 the need for a separate intelligence body was keenly felt. ISI was therefore created as an independent unit in 1948 from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which handled intelligence sharing between different branches of the military.

The ISI was structured to be manned by officers from the three main military services, and to specialise in collection, analysis and assessment of external intelligence. The ISI was the brainchild of Australian-born British Army officer, Major General R. Cawthome, then Deputy Chief of Staff in the Pakistan Army.

Its headquarters was initially located in Rawalpindi but later were moved to the newly built capital, Islamabad. The current director of the organization is Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj.

Often alleged to be an invisible force in Pakistani politics and countless incidents around the world, it is one of the most significant and secretive intelligence agencies that exist today.

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