ISLAMABAD: When former DG ISI Ahmed Shuja Pasha appeared before the Abbottabad Commission, he opened
indiscriminate fire on all.
The former spy chief blasted Pervez Musharraf for caving in before Americans, the political leadership for ignorance, indifference and its lack of a reading culture, all security and intelligence agencies for not performing diligently and journalists as being ‘heavily bribed with money, women and alcohol’ for launching campaigns against the ISI.
Pasha admitted before the commission that the ISI had brutalised many, even ‘decent people’ but explained there are now ‘changes to its (ISI) mindset, culture and methodology’. This followed a warning note as he said that there were still people who continue criticising the ISI and they ‘should fear the ISI’ as they were working against the national interests.
He told the commission that former PM Yusuf Raza Gilani’s statement about a ‘state within state’ and asking who had given a visa to Osama bin Laden angered the army beyond imagination. He said, however, the PM only once asked him for a briefing during his entire stint.
The Defence Ministry, he continued, never sent a request for information sharing. No one, including the defence minister, he said, read policy documents on defence and there is no culture of reading among the political leadership. A thinking process does not exist, hence there is no formulation of any policy.
The former spy chief also made a rare admission of enforced disappearances notwithstanding the fact ‘it (the ISI) had nolegal authority’ and sought detention powers for the agency. He further disclosed that the US had pressurised Pakistan through Saudi Arabia for the release of Dr Shakil Afridi but failed in such attempts.
Pasha admitted links with Haqqani network that, he said, was a brain child of ISI and CIA created after the Soviet invasion. Besides Pakistan, other countries like UK and Italy are also in touch with them, he disclosed.
The former spy chief also disclosed that the CIA had infiltrated many foreign NGOs including Save the Children that has ‘a history of involvement with the CIA’ and concluded there were very few NGOs that could be termed totally ‘clean’. He said the CIA director had personally requested him not to expose Save the Children’s role in its activities in Pakistan.
Below are the highlights of his statement about different sections of society, foreign organisations and its role other than the embarrassing intelligence failure on fateful May 2, 2011 that has already been highlighted in the media.
Pasha’s views about political leadership: Calling into question the role of former military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, he said Musharraf had caved in so promptly and so completely to the US demands that Shamsi airbase was given to them for drone strikes against people in Pakistan. Someone should have told the Americans that ‘enough was enough’ but in vain and both the ‘political and military elite were responsible for this lapse’.
He said the Abbottabad incident was a result of lack of capacity, inadequate knowledge and wrong attitude. For example, he explained, no one, including the defence minister, had read the basic documents concerning defence policy. There was simply no culture of reading among the political leadership. Besides, ‘the thinking process was also non-existent’. Accordingly, it was unable to formulate any policy.
He rejected the idea of putting ISI under civilian control, saying an earlier attempt to bring under the Interior Ministry was disastrous. The ISI reports to the president and the prime minister, he said, saying information is shared on a demand basis but has never received a demand from the Defence Ministry.
The PM has once asked for an update on the security situation, he disclosed, and the DG ISI was only once summoned to brief him. Explaining the indifference of provinces on intelligence sharing, Pasha blasted Sindh and Punjab. He said that ISI knew foreign miscreants lived in Karachi’s no-go area but police dare not venture there. The situation was increasingly becoming true of Lahore and other cities of Punjab, he said. The police protected in Lahore those who attacked the Qadianis in 2010 and even directed them to the hospital where the wounded were being treated. No guards were assigned to the hospital for security despite the information passed on by ISI as ‘venal political influence intervened everywhere’.
About Prime Minister Gilani’s statement in the National Assembly asking who had given a six-year visa to Osama bin Laden and his reference to ‘a state within a state’, Pasha said his criticism was very unfair. ‘The anger in the military over such unfair statements could not be described’.
Harassment by ISI, media’s suspicious activities and missing persons: Pasha accepted that agency’s record was not without blemish, saying many ‘decent people’ had been harmed by some of its errors. But the ISI learned from experiences, he said, and reformed itself through ‘change to its mindset, culture and methodology’. But he also warned that those who still criticise and fear from the ISI are people ‘who should fear the ISI’ as they more often than not were working against the national interest.
About the role of Pakistani media, Pasha said, journalists were also found involved in the vilification campaign against the ISI launched by the US and many journalists were ‘heavily bribed with money, women and alcohol.’ He said the media was ‘practically bought up’ and nearly ‘every one of our elite was purchasable.’
He also admitted that the ISI had arrested people without any legal authority but justified this malpractice by throwing blame on the police that, he said, leaked the information provided to it. Accordingly, the ISI preferred to act alone and there is a need to grant detention power to the agency, he explained.
Criticised all agencies: Pasha said all the intelligence agencies must be held to account for their failure including Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, Naval Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau, Criminal Investigation Department and the Special Branch. None of the said agencies re-aligned their task in the aftermath of 9/11. Very little coordination exists for terrorism-related information sharing with military intelligence services, he disclosed. The police should have a comparative advantage with respect to internal security since it has tentacle down to the district level. The CID, Special Branch and the police have advantage over the ISI because of their spread, area coverage and local knowledge but nothing was done by them, he said.
Most of the officers posted in the IB are from police and do not know the basics of intelligence, said Pasha who did not have any intelligence experience either when appointed DG. He also failed to mention that same is being practiced in the ISI that is run by the armed forces notwithstanding the fact it is a civilian agency.
Self-assuming role of ISI as counter-terrorism agency: Admitting the fact that the government never tasked the ISI to deal with counter-terrorism, Pasha said the agency had assumed this responsibility ‘in response to the dysfunctionality of the prevailing system and the ineffectiveness of other state organs’. Another reason was the fact that the president so often happens to be serving army chief, he said with reference to repeated military intervention and realising the fact that Musharraf was COAS-president by that time.
Contacts with Haqqani network: Pasha said it was jointly created by the CIA and ISI against the Soviet occupation. The fighting core of this network had been placed under UN sanctions, he explained, but its non-combatant members were not. The ISI is in ‘contact with these non-sanctioned members’ who are responsible for administrative and other matters, he said and justified this by explaining that the UK, Italy and some other countries are also in touch with them.
Foreign NGOs as CIA’s agents: Pasha said CIA had a history of using NGOs and there were 1300 foreign NGOs working in Pakistan. There is clear evidence that CIA, he explained, uses them including Save the Children that, he said, has a ‘history of involvement with the CIA’. The CIA was extremely worried that its nexus with NGOs might be publicly exposed, he said. In fact, Pasha continued, the CIA director had personally requested him not to expose Save the Children’s role in its activities in Pakistan. He said there were very few ‘clean’ foreign NGOs working in Pakistan. Pasha said it was not possible for the ISI to track activities of all these NGOs and only the police could undertake their monitoring and surveillance.