Not many have doubts about the 'sovereignty' of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). President General Parvez Musharraf did not have to underline it through his remark that it should not be destabilized. Those familiar with the governance in Pakistan know that the force is a parallel authority which has its own agenda and which has its own ways to put it into operation.
People inside and outside Pakistan were happy when there was a notification that the ISI would be under the Ministry of Interior. Asif ali Zardari, Co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), welcomed the step and pointed out that "no one will now be able to say that this agency is not under the elected government control". But he spoke too soon. Within 24 hours, another notification was issued to say that the earlier notification had been 'misunderstood' and that the ISI would "continue to function under the prime minister." In other words, the military will continue to control it through an Army Maj.Gen who heads it. A more detailed notification was promised. But it has not come out.
It is apparent that the defence forces exerted the pressure and had another notification issued for "clarification". Director-General of the Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) Maj-Gen Athar Abbas was blunt enough to say the army chief and other defence authorities had not been taken into confidence on the issue.
This proves, if any more proof is needed, that the military continues to rule Pakistan even after the polls which gave the democratic forces a clear majority. Musharraf's argument that the ISI is Pakistan's "first line of defence" is understandable. As the Army Chief, who staged a coup and ruled the country for more than eight years, he is committed to the military's ascendancy.
But why has Zardari who praised the interior ministry's control kept quiet is beyond me. He should know he cannot have any deal with the military if he wants people behind him. But most surprising is the silence of Nawaz Sharif, head of the Muslim League (N). On the one hand, he demands the impeachment of Musharraf for his rule as a military dictator and on the other hand, he prefers to keep quiet when there is a small opening: handing over the charge of ISI to the ministry of Interior.
In fact, the Charter of Democracy which he signed with the late Benazir Bhutto at London two years ago goes much beyond and wants the Army to return to the barracks. Sharif cannot shrug his shoulders when the military puts pressure and gets back the control of ISI. Indeed, the nub of Pakistan's problems is the failure of political parties to stand up to the army which has even spread itself in the fields of commerce, trade and real estate. The quantum is said to be as much as 70 per cent.
Pakistan has returned to democracy through internationally-supervised polls. Political parties have not yet put their act together. Yet it does not mean that the old order where power rested with the military should continue. Musharraf belongs to the old mould. But he and his party, the Muslim League (Quaid), were defeated at the polls. They want the military's control in some shape or the other. Therefore, Musharraf saying that ISI should be 'sovereign' fits into his way of thinking. The contradiction is that this train of thinking does not fit into the ethos of democracy.
Still more frightening is the statement by Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that the probe into the bomb attack on Indian embassy at Kabul required concrete evidence. What more proof is required when America has said that the ISI gave support to the bombers to ram into the premises of the Indian embassy? Moreover, the question of probe was sorted out when Gilani declared after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Colombo that Pakistan would make necessary inquiry.
Singh must have passed on some information on the basis of which he (Gilani) agreed to a probe. Then why is there the demand for 'concrete evidence'? The New York Times has reported in detail: "Michael V.Hayden, the CIA chief-who met the prime minister at a dinner on Monday, told Mr Gilani that Pakistan will have to do something about the alleged involvement of ISI official with the militants. Some information in the CIA charge-sheet were so damning that the Pakistanis could not deny them. The CIA also told the PM that even a change of government in Washington would not help Pakistan as whoever occupied the White House in January would also want Islamabad to rein in the ISI".
Subsequently, in an interview to Washington Post, Gilani confirmed the New York Times report that CIA deputy director Stephen R. Kappes and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admn. Michael G.Mullen visited Islamabad in mid-July with reports of some ISI officials' alleged links with the militants. So far there is no evidence that Islamabad has taken the complaint seriously.
Since the ISI has been caught on the wrong foot Pakistan is trying its best to fob off the agency's responsibility in the bomb attack on Indian embassy. Even if something concrete is proved against the ISI there is none in Pakistan to take action against the agency because it is the Army's "first line of defence".
Destabilizing India is on the top of the agency's agenda and it does not matter to the ISI whether good relations between India and Pakistan are essential to combat the militants who were striking in the subcontinent at their will. The policy the ISI has been pursuing for years is having Afghanistan under it on the conviction that it will give Pakistan a "strategic depth". Islamabad has made no headway so far in this direction. For some time, it has developed the belief that if Afghanistan does not have India as its supporter Kabul would come round. The anger of ISI against New Delhi stems from India's close relations with Kabul.
In fact, the militancy in the region cannot go until the ISI gives up its policy on having Afghanistan in Pakistan's backyard. Most of the activity of Taliban is because of that. True, the Taliban are the creation of the ISI. But they also have an ambition of their own to rule: To carve out a state of their own from the territories under Afghanistan and Pakistan is their dream. The ISI is playing a dangerous game when it encourages the Taliban to needle Afghanistan, without striking at Pakistan's federally administered area on the border of NWFP. Only a civilian control of the ISI can sort out things. Preferably, the force should be disbanded.