Monday, 23 May 2011

ISI is the best secret agency, is it?

ISI is the best secret agency, is it?
Dr Shabir Choudhry 23 May 2011

Over the past few years big targets related to security services and other military institutions in various parts of Pakistan have been attacked by terrorists. They even attacked Head Quarters of the Pakistan Army, held many officers hostage for twenty hours and killed many people including a Brigadier and Lt. Colonel. Despite this obvious blunder or security lapse no one accepted that there was a security lapse or an intelligence failure.

However, after Abbotabad incident, which totally exposed the Pakistan army and their secret agencies, an attempt is made to promote the ISI as the best secret agency of the world. I don’t know what criteria were used but some institutions have put the ISI as the best secret agency in the world; but others have put it as the second or the third best.

Other secret agencies which are among the top ten are: CIA (America), MI - 6 (Britain), Mossad (Israel), BND (Germany), FSB (Russia), MSS (China), DGSE (France), RAW (India) and ASIS (Australia).

Pakistan army is also presented as one of the best professional army in the world. Professionalism of any army is tested by its ability to defend national borders and defeat enemy. History proves that despite much acclaimed professionalism and bravery of the Pakistan army they have not won any war, if anything, they lost East Pakistan and resulted in the biggest surrender in the world history.

Role of secret agencies is to work as ear and eyes of the government and armed forces that they can protect its borders and other national interests. Role of the intelligence services has become extremely crucial in defence of the national interests; and helping to devise policies to protect its people, or at least protect its own safe houses and military installations.

Performance of secret agencies are not judged by their behaviour to the unarmed civilians. Even most inefficient and corrupt secret agencies have the ability to harass, intimidate, oppress, kidnap and kill its own civilians; and in civilised societies that is seen as a stigma and not actions worthy of praise and medals.

Therefore, performance of the ISI should not be judged by its ability and actions committed against citizens of Pakistan, whether they were kidnapped from outside the prisons after being released by courts or abducted from their homes. Also its performance should not be judged by number of people they arrested and then ‘sold’ to the CIA for dollars.

Furthermore, performance of the ISI should not be measured by its complicity in invasion of the Pakistani capitals; rigging elections, defaming politicians and bringing down democratically elected governments.

In view of the above, if Pakistan has lost all the wars, no doubt army is responsible for that, but how could ISI escape blame, as it is the premier secret agency and it must share blame for those failures. Similarly secret agencies, including the ISI are also responsible for failure to protect army’s GHQ and other security and military related installations.

It is strange that after each big success of the terrorists or after each big intelligence lapse or failure, no government official, no minister, army Chief or security Chief has accepted responsibility for anything. They have always claimed that there was no security lapse or intelligence failure; and that security services and other law enforcing agencies cannot be at every nook or corner of the country.

On the night of 22 May terrorist inflicted the biggest blow to prestige and power of the Pakistan army in Karachi where only six people managed to enter PNS Mehran, killed 12 navy and rangers personnel, destroyed billions worth of property, including planes, helicopters, fought them for 16 hours and still two of them managed to escape. And tragedy is no one is held responsible for this failure; and while other government top officials and army officials are tight lipped about this tragic incident, some officials like Home Minister, Rehman Malik are hailing it as a big success of those fighting terrorism.

Naval Chief, instead of explaining its failure praised the training and weaponry of those who attacked the naval compound. This praise resulted in one commentator saying when are you going to send your lot to be trained by these terrorists.

In view of those who are in charge of security and protecting national interest and protecting life and dignity of citizens and that of Pakistan, like previous occasions claimed that there was no security lapse and no intelligence failure. If that is true, then how these six men, armed to teeth, managed to get in this supposedly very secure area, inflict so much damage, kill armed personnel, fight for 16 hours and still escape when this area was completely surrounded by army men.

I agree it is not a security lapse; it is much more than that. This blunder deserves a new name or terminology to elucidate the degree of damage it has inflicted. Moreover, one wonders if some kind of inside help and support was available to these terrorists, who directed them to the target and helped them to escape.

If this is not a security lapse or intelligence failure then what is a security lapse or intelligence failure? Perhaps meaning of the security lapse and intelligence failure is different in Pakistan than in other countries of the world. There is no tradition of accepting any responsibility or resigning over these blunders, as it happens in civilised and democratic countries.

One wonders, despite all the big failures which are associated with the ISI, one wonders why the premier agency of Pakistan is being promotes as the best in the world? Why they are pampered as the best secret agency when the performance related to protecting national interest of Pakistan; and even protecting its own safe houses is disappointing.

Unlike secret agencies of other countries, Pakistani ISI is also closely associated with the foreign policy related to ‘jihad’ in Kashmir and Afghanistan. We all know how they have messed up both issues and how many people have lost lives because of their wrong policies and wrong strategies.
So one can see the record of the ISI, be it related to Kashmir, Afghanistan and protecting national interests of Pakistan; and even protecting its own security related institutions is extremely disappointing. Despite that some people are urging every one to stand behind them and support them; but question is support them in what? No one is against these institutions, every country has them and needs them, and criticism is not on their existence but on their role and performance.

After 9/11 and after invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, America, Britain, France and other Western countries were perceived as waging a war against Muslims and Alqaeeda declared a war against them. Despite war on terrorism, invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, America has ensured that no terrorism takes place inside the American territory. Yet some Pakistani writers and TV anchors, in their attempt to cover failures of the ISI criticise CIA for failing to predict Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

These anchors don’t know that in view of some experts CIA manoeuvred situation that Russia invades Afghanistan – a ‘bear trap’ – that a score of Vietnam could be levelled. In any case, the American secret agencies have managed to keep terrorists away from their shores and one should judge them on that performance. Similarly record of secret agencies of other countries like Britain, France, Germany and Australia is remarkable.

Pakistani secret agencies, on the other hand, have worked hard to make America’s war ‘their own war’, that has resulted in death of more than 35,000 Pakistanis and destruction of property worth more than 55 billion and enormous loss to economy; and still people are told that Pakistanis should be proud of the role of ISI.

Both Pakistan army and the ISI have some brilliant and loyal officers; but one at times wonder if those who are entrusted with making policies or deciding priorities know what they are doing. Unlike professional armies of other countries, professional army of Pakistan, despite other duties is also closely associated with running other important institutions like Housing Societies, cement factories, banks and many other business enterprises.

If army and the ISI limit their role to their professions, stop thinking themselves above the law, and make them accountable to the civilian rule, then surely with help and support of the people they will weather the storm. If on the other hand, old policies with some cosmetic changes continue then surely it will bring a disaster to the entire region.
Writer is Head Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir
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