Pak PM Imran Khan is reported to have approved the formation of the National Intelligence Coordination Committee- a mechanism for coordinating about two dozen intelligence agencies. While such steps are common in all the countries but in Pakistan it assumes a different dimension and objectives as also the expertise of the ISI which would be heading the new body.
In Pakistan, this body would be headed by the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and would be designated as the Chairman of the National Intelligence Coordination Committee. The Dawn of Pakistan has reported that its terms of reference and modus operandi would be decided once it formally takes shape. The move is reportedly part of the long-awaited reform of the intelligence apparatus, which aims at clarifying the role of respective agencies, improving their coordination and optimising their capabilities. The Pak media report has linked this effort as an endeavour to effectively tackle terrorism where intelligence coordination is the weakest link. This argument appears strange as the ISI is not only maintaining links with international and regional terrorist outfits but also nurture them to deal with its neighbours, especially India and Afghanistan, turning Pakistan into ‘terroristan’.
To understand how this body would be functioning in Pakistan under ISI, a hard look at the ISI’s functioning is required. It is an agency of the Pak Army headed by an officer of Lt. Gen. The ISI has some civilians also but they all work under the Pak Army. Intelligence Bureau in Pakistan is a civilian body that deal with the internal security. There are other civilian agencies as well dealing with economic crimes, narcotic etc. So far ISI is concerned it role remains the most important not only within the country but outside as well. It specialises in exporting terrorism, narcotic smuggling, gun-running and printing and circulation of fake Indian currency notes. A few attempts were made to bring ISI under the control of the Interior Ministry but such decisions could not be implemented under pressure from the Pak Army.
It is a truism that no government in Pakistan can remain in power without the support of the Pak Army. ISI has been used by successive Pak Army Chiefs to control the civilian government and to create a fear of external threat to remain in power. This agency has been used several times for political engineering and in that context, it goes far beyond its professional domain of intelligence operations for the purpose of meeting the defence needs. Its involvement in mounting surveillance on civilians and political opponents of the military regime or the military supported regimes as well as masterminding alliances of co-opted political parties, occasionally playing on religious and ethnic sentiments are well documented.
The domestic political role of ISI is the combination of three elements: ensuring supremacy of the Pak Army in the management of governing system, comprehensive political surveillance and maintenance of State terror. State terror is applied against individuals and groups creating problems for the Pak Army and often carried out by proxies. In Baluchistan, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, its role in elimination of political leaders is well-known.
At the federal level, often the Pak Army directly controlled the governance at other times it maintained a façade of civilian administration but keeping the reigns in its hands. It has often cobbled up political parties to form government. IJI an alliance of right-wing political parties was formed to prevent Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from sweeping the polls; PML (Q) was its creation and it ensured that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) leaders accepted General Musharraf as president in uniform. Whenever it is not directly controlling the State, it ensures that its interests, powers and privileges are preserved. Its overriding powers in the foreign policy, security and key domestic issues are always ensured and the ISI plays a key role in this. The ISI works on the concept that military can preserve its position and privileges, if the polity is weak and divided. The ISI has now established units in all districts where they are headed by a Lt. Col. And a Brigadier is in-charge of five or six districts. A Maj Gen. is in-charge of Political Division dealing with political aspects.
There is plenty of material available on its links with Islamic radical groups and the Pak based terrorist organisations. It creates new outfits whenever international focus comes on its links with any of the existing terrorist outfits. Former President Musharraf had admitted that some ‘rouge retired ISI officers’ were maintaining links with such groups while denying the organisational links with them. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or its front Jamat-ud Dawah (JuD), Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), Hijbul Mujahideen (HuM) Al Badr etc. are all creation of ISI. Its links with ISIS and Al Qaeda are also well reported. Osama bin Laden was kept near the Pak Army Hqrs for years. India’s Permanent representative at the UM, Ambassador Trimurti had stated recently in an interview, “It’s a well-known fact that Pakistan is the nerve centre of terrorism. Pakistan is the home to the largest number of listed terrorists and internationally designated terrorist entities”.
While ISI is charged for collection of intelligence in foreign countries, it is known to be playing important role in covert operations in the adjoining countries to support the Pak approach. In this capacity, it is notorious for its role in the Afghan conflict through its support of the mujahideen and, later, the Taliban as well as for its involvement in the J&K. It has a special division known as Joint Intelligence North (JIN) to cover J&K and Afghanistan. For other countries, there is a separate division called Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous (JIM).
In essence, ISI as the main agency to supervise the intelligence coordinating body, would be responsible for setting the objectives of the entire Pak intelligence community, coordination of all government activities relative to national intelligence and security and preparation of national intelligence estimates of local and foreign situations for the formulation of national intelligence and security policies. It would have control over all civilian and military agencies dealing with national security and to task, utilise their assets in accordance with its plans. As the counterintelligence would be its responsibility, it would be watching all the diplomats and senior civil servants. It would be responsible for planning and execution of all covert operations in foreign countries as also domestically and would be in a position to fully exploit the resources and assets of all other agencies and governmental units, thus giving it vast resources.
Given the ISI’s objectives and the fact that it is a part of the Pak Army, this would provide a firm grip of ISI/Pak Army over all the government units. The attempts seen in the past to reduce the power and influence of the ISI as was witnessed during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, would not be possible. They were also nullified but now it would be unthinkable. Externally, it would focus on J&K and Afghanistan. Terrorist activities would be escalated in both the places to draw the attention of International Community and to obtain strategic depth in Afghanistan. Terrorist outfits and their supporters would be asked to raise protest and violence level against the removal of Article 370. The timing of this ‘reform’ also suggests this. After declaring Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province, the ISI would now be focussing on J&K to protect the interests of Chinese CPEC as also to put pressure on the Indian forces which are facing the PLA in Ladakh. Significantly, prior to this decision, the Vice Chairman of China’s CMC had visited Pakistan in August and discussed the J&K issue.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.