As democracy struggles to gain a foothold in Pakistan amid political turmoil and a financial crisis – an international research organisation has called on the government to bring the intelligence set up, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), under civilian control, as “agencies are losing their support base and increasingly being targeted by terrorists”.
Carnegie Endowment’s report – authored by Fredric Grare, a renowned South Asian expert – examines the connection between Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and domestic politics. The report is based on the premise that controlling the intelligence agencies is one of many aspects of the broader democratisation issue.
‘Reduce support’: “Reducing the role of the military in intelligence should be a priority not only because it will help the government consolidate itself domestically, but also because the perception abroad of Pakistan’s emerging democracy and consequent foreign support will be shaped by its this capacity,” says the author in the report.
Grare says that since the general elections of 2008, “the ISI has launched a series of offensives on both the Afghan border and Kashmir, which – besides their specific geostrategic objectives – also create a credibility problem for the civilian government”.
Threat: “The threat of terrorism will persist as long as the ISI continues nurturing a number of extremist groups operating within and beyond Pakistan’s borders,” says the report.
In the report, Grare also asks the civilian government of Pakistan to restore the Supreme Court and ‘prosecute ISI violations of legality’, while reinforcing separation between civilian and military intelligence agencies.
The expert says that time to reform the intelligence set up in Pakistan is appropriate, as previous resistance to cooperate in counter-terrorism is diminishing. The author also calls on the international community to capitalise on the opportunity.
The author also calls on the Pakistani government to strengthen the country’s police force and build public support, “but manage expectations”. The report also urges international community to seek routes through China and Iran to reduce ‘Islamabad’s leverage’ over Western countries fighting in Afghanistan.
“The newly opened Russia route isn’t a stable solution, given ongoing tensions over NATO,” Grare observes. “This would help to gradually reverse the link of dependency between the international community and Pakistan ... Pakistan is currently in the unique position of supporting both sides in the Afghan conflict, whereas the international community is inhibited in its relations with Islamabad because Pakistan was, until recently, the only country of transit for support and supplies for the international troops in Afghanistan,” says the report.
Grare claims the Pakistan Army remains a dominant ‘actor’ in Pakistan’s political life, despite some improvements in civil-military relations in recent years.
“Previous abuses of power by both Pakistani regimes and the intelligence agencies — particularly the ISI make reforms imperative before Pakistan can continue its democratic transition,” Grare concludes in the 109-page report released on March 6. Grare asserts, “Because Pakistann’s civilian governments have been victims of the agencies’ manipulation in the past, the new and very fragile government cannot ignore the decisive role of the intelligence agencies in Pakistani politics if it wants to counter the direct and more subtle manifestations of military control.” Citing interviews with Pakistani officials and case studies in Indonesia and Chile – Grare says that with patience, resolve and assistance from the international community, Pakistan’s government could successfully ‘reassert civilian control’ over the intelligence community.