Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has charged unnamed forces of hatching plots against the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and warned that weakening the spy agency was tantamount to weakening the country and the armed forces.
The ISI was "the first defence line of Pakistan", and the people "should defend Pakistan against such conspiracies. Weakening the ISI would also weaken the war on terror", Daily Times on Monday quoted Musharraf as saying.
He was speaking at a dinner in Karachi on Sunday night hosted by traders and industrialists.
According to Musharraf, "conspiracies against the ISI were aimed at defaming Pakistan. ISI is a patriotic institution, which is working for the stability of the country", The News quoted the president as saying.
The ISI, which has been at the centre of numerous controversies, finds itself facing one of its toughest tests yet with the CIA releasing transcripts of what it claims are messages between one of its operatives and the attackers of the Indian embassy in Kabul last month.
Fifty people, including two Indian diplomats, had died in that attack.
US President George Bush, during his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Washington last month, is reported to have pointedly asked who the ISI's real boss was.
Confusion also prevails over the ISI's reporting line, with the order transferring it from the prime minister's secretariat to the interior ministry not having been formally withdrawn.
On July 26, within hours of a Cabinet Division notification bringing the ISI, as also the Intelligence Bureau (IB) under the interior ministry, the government clarified that the spy agency would continue to function under the prime minister and that the earlier notification had been misinterpreted.
Most newspapers and TV channels reported the next day that the government had stepped back on the issue amid reports that Gilani had reversed the decision after receiving two emergency calls made at Musharraf's behest.
The Cabinet Division, however, has not issued a formal order reversing its earlier notification.