It is almost a daily occurrence that Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML (N) stalwart Ch Nisar Ali Khan launches tirade and makes scathing remarks against Armed Forces of Pakistan particular the premier intelligence agency ISI in one way or the other. But ironically on Tuesday media reports put Ch Nisar and the US on the same page as far as ISI bashing was concerned with former criticising its chief for his US visit and the latter reported to have listed ISI among 36 terrorist organizations.
Although these revelations date from a US authorities’ assessment of four years ago, they shine the spotlight on, and may help explain, the current trust deficit between the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the US, a deficit that has by now eroded even the close military-to-military ties between the two countries. The spat between the ISI and American CIA broke out over the Raymond Davis affair and escalated over the drone attacks in FATA, which the Pakistani authorities say cause collateral damage in unrelated civilian deaths, which in turn produce pressures on the government.
Despite the relationship between the two sides being a symbiotic one, in which nether can part from the other without incurring negative consequences, the two issues of CIA operatives having the run of the land and the drones the run of the tribal areas have come to a head, provoking a rare candour from both sides. Admiral Mike Mullen on his recent visit weighed in with his take on the ISI’s connections with the Haqqani network (believed to have relations with al Qaeda) being the main problem in the relationship. Our military and security establishment in turn has stoked and later relied on public sentiment against the free run given to the CIA and drones by the Musharraf regime in a transparent attempt to renegotiate the terms of endearment. Why this is so critical at this moment is because all stakeholders are seeking to position themselves favourably for the endgame in Afghanistan. Who will sup with whom, in what pecking order at Kabul’s moveable feast is likely to loom large over the present course of events.
While the ISI is maintaining a meaningful silence over the Guantanamo files, it and the military establishment to which it reports came in for a bit of stick from an unexpected source within the country. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali came out all guns blazing on the floor of the house against the ISI and military establishment, accusing them of orchestrating the activities of “test-tube” politicians (a pointed reference to Imran Khan and his recent caravan march to Peshawar against the drone attacks). He went on to claim his party, the PML-N, had also been approached by these forces but had refused to go along with any agenda of destabilisation of the present dispensation or even any role for the military in politics. This diatribe from a political worthy known to be close to the military establishment acquires added significance and weight. Partly of course, Nisar was attempting to deflect criticism against him for meeting COAS General Kayani, but partly it was a broadside against the forces the PML-N believes were directly responsible for all they had to go through since the military coup in 1999. Nisar’s charge of the intelligence services and military establishment indulging in their usual bag of tricks was responded to by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. The prime minister agreed to address the concerns of the opposition leader if he could present substantive proof. The question though remains: do the political forces have the will to restrain the powerful intelligence services and military establishment?