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Pakistan flip-flop on ISI creates confusion

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS,

Islamabad : The Pakistan government’s notification Sunday, reversing an announcement made a day before to place the two top intelligence agencies under the interior ministry, has led to further confusion with a former top spy saying a conspiracy was foiled.

The government Saturday issued a notification saying the prime minister has approved giving the interior ministry control of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The notification, issued on a day Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani left for a crucial meeting with President George W. Bush, was seen mostly as a positive step and a move towards complete civilian rule.

It said: “In terms of Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973, the prime minister has approved the placement of the Intelligence Bureau and the Inter-Services Intelligence under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division with immediate effect.”

However, early Sunday morning the government issued another notification saying that the earlier order was misunderstood and the ISI would remain under the prime minister.

Traditionally and according to the government record, the ISI has been under financial and administrative control of the defence ministry but was answerable to the prime minister.

“This may be in papers but everyone knows the reality from where the ISI takes orders and who heads it,” Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood told IANS.

He said it was an excellent move to bring the ISI under the complete civilian rule. “But let’s see what happens now.”

The early morning notification by the information ministry stressed extending cooperation between the interior ministry and the ISI in matters like war against terror and internal security.

It said that more details in this regard will be given in a detailed notification – creating more confusion and the media was left guessing what the third notification can be.

Many politicians, civil society representatives and intelligentsia termed the earlier notification a right step in the right direction.

“It is always good to place institutions under the civilian rule but the present government seems to be taking every step in haste and without discussing it at proper forums,” Mushahid Hussain, former information minister and secretary of opposition Pakistan Muslim League, told IANS.

He said the government had miserably failed in every sphere. “It seems there is no leadership and decisions are not taken in appropriate way,” he said.

However former ISI chief Lt Gen Hameed Gul said the roll-over of the decision to place ISI under the interior ministry had foiled a conspiracy being hatched against the country’s defence system.

Talking to the Geo television channel, Gul said that ISI was purely a defence set-up and putting it under the control of the interior ministry should not even be thought.

He said that the u-turn on the issue was a welcome step, as this organization all the time remains in a warlike situation safeguarding the interests of the country and it works as the eye and ear of Pakistan’s military system.

Said a politician requesting anonymity: “I think the government wanted to show their foreign masters that they have taken control of everything from the army and now President Pervez Musharraf was no more required.”