Who is the ISI reporting to?

Published: January 6, 2012
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Is there any truth to the claim that the ISI is a rogue operation that submits to no authority? PHOTO: AFP

You know the game is up when even Asma Jahangir walks off in a huff with the ball mid-match. The indefatigable human-rights lawyer threw a tantrum after the Supreme Court decided that the charges against her client, Husain Haqqani, in the Memogate casewarranted investigation by a commission.

Jahangir decided she could no longer represent Haqqani after accusing the judiciary of working in league with the ‘establishment’, a term that means ‘everyone I disagree with in Pakistan’. In this case, she seemed to be referring to the ISI.

Earlier, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani more or less admitted that he had no control over the ISI after it was revealed that spy chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha had met Mansoor Ijaz in London to investigate the Memogate charges without actually seeking permission from the PM.

Whether it’s the civilian government at home or foreign governments abroad, there is nothing they enjoy more than deflecting blame towards the ISI. If everything we have heard about them is true, the ISI is the head of the Evil League of Evil, an organization so nefarious that everything wrong in the country can be blamed on them.

But is there any truth to the claim that the ISI is a rogue operation that submits to no authority?

Not quite.

Yes, the ISI is responsible for rigging elections, training militants and generally making a nuisance of themselves but to call it an unaccountable organisation allows responsibility to shift away from the army.

The fact is that the ISI is not a rogue group; everything it does is with the express consent of the army. Blaming one part of the military apparatus, rather than the whole, gives the army a free pass for its many strategic and moral failings, from the folly of its Afghanistan policy to the mass abductions of citizens for no discernible reason. It is for that very reason that the army itself quietly promotes the myth of the ISI as a process-free organization that no one has a grip on.

The problem is not just that Pasha was carrying out an investigation behind the prime minister’s back. What is really worrying is that Pasha would not have done so without army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s, and as a result the entire military’s, blessing.

Holding the ISI solely responsible is like blaming your death on cancer rather than the tens of thousands of cigarettes you smoked all your life. The ISI is merely the natural result of the military’s dominance over the country. Once the civil-military imbalance is redressed, the ISI problem goes away.

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nadir.hassan

Nadir Hassan

An Islamabad based journalist who tweets at @Nadir_Hassan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.