As Pakistan’s shadowy Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) faces growing accusations of backing terrorist activities from Afghanistan to India, the civilian government has tried but failed to take control of the ISI in an ongoing power struggle.
Yet again, a civilian government in Pakistan has failed to assert its authority over the ISI Directorate, currently headed by a serving army general.
On Saturday, an official press release announced in Islamabad that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, before leaving for Washington, had placed the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Ministry “with immediate effect”.
As Pakistani newspapers front-paged the story on Sunday, the government issued yet another press statement saying that its previous order had been misunderstood and the ISI would continue to report to the prime minister.
“The ISI will continue to work under the PM, an official spokesman clarified late Saturday night. The spokesman said the earlier notification regarding control of ISI was being misunderstood…” the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.
“The ground reality is that the ISI is a law unto its own,” M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat, who dealt with Pakistan for years, told HT. “There’s just no way a serving general can report to the Interior Ministry.”
It’s widely believed that the agency manipulates the politics of Pakistan in favour of the army and has played a lead role in attempting to rig elections or forge pre-poll alliances in Pakistan.
Interestingly, The News, a Pakistani daily, quoted Asif Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman, as saying that placing the ISI under the Interior Ministry was a step towards civilian rule.
Lt. Gen V.R. Raghavan (retd), a strategic analyst, said the twin statements “reflect the pulls and pressures between the elected government and the old system”.
Since October 1999, when army chief Pervez Musharraf took power, the agency has been reporting to him. With a freely-elected government taking office in March, some of these contradictions have come to the surface.