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Why did the Prime Minister allowed ISI to act as a vetting agency for civil officers

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ISI to act as a vetting agency

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has issued a notification directing the country’s intelligence agency ISI to act as a vetting agency for civil officers. The notification states that the ISI will scrutinize all public office holders required for the commencement of their service, i.e. at the time of recruitment, appointment, transfer, and promotion to sensitive positions. The Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) already does this for military officers and personnel working under the Ministry of Defense. The waiting area of ​​the ISI is called the SVA, the Special Waiting Agency.

The 8101 SVA Form in the Army is filled up at the time of any promotion, transfer, or even an interview in which details related to education, and past appointments, including details of concerned personnel, and their families, are recorded. This form is pasted in the files prepared by ISI, and this record is provided to the relevant form at every development and exchange. However, as far as the military personnel are concerned, the role of ISI has always been the same.

Before this, IB (Intelligence Bureau) and SB (Special Branch) at the provincial level regularly collected intelligence information about civil officers. The primary function is to collect and verify data and gather information on the person’s financial integrity, political affiliation, overseas contacts, and role. In addition, if other agencies had important information about any officer, such as their wealth or foreign relations, they would share it with the IB or the relevant authority.

Naveed Elahi, former deputy director-general of the Intelligence Bureau, said that the decision of the Prime Minister was very disappointing and that it had given the impression to the IB officials themselves that their work and the institution were ineffective. “This is an unnecessary step and the wrong message has been sent to the civil society,” he said. “IB has been working very effectively and still does. This is wrong; it will weaken civil society, lead to unnecessary military intervention, and create divisions. The ISI’s method of gathering other information is different from that of the IB. He also blamed the Prime Minister and the IB chief for the decision.

He said, “In recent times, the DG IB has generally been at the behest of the Principal Secretaries, and the understanding of the Prime Minister’s Agency has been declining. This is not happening now. He says the ISI is strong in terms of resources, but the IB’s approach is much better when gathering information. However, the ISPR says that this is a government decision, and they can give a better opinion as to why they did it. The government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.Civilians also hold high positions in the ISI, but they do not dominate its organizational structure.

The ISI’s organizational structure is dominated by the military, although officers from the navy and air force are also part of the organization. The DG ISI is a liaison center for foreign intelligence agencies and military attaches stationed at foreign embassies in Islamabad. He also serves as the prime minister’s chief adviser on intelligence matters.

Is the PM’s decision a blow to civil supremacy?

Defence analyst Lieutenant General (retd) Amjad Shoaib of the Pakistan Army says that this is not a bad step in security, but military intervention will be considered. “If the government had asked the ISI to wait for someone, they would have done so, or if they had any information, they would have shared it with the relevant authorities, but the agency did not have such formal authority,” he said. But now, it will be a regular feature. The names of these civil officers for appointment or promotion to every sensitive or senior post will be sent to ISI. The agency will clear them, and then they will be appointed.

“From a security standpoint, this is not a bad thing; for example, if you find people in important and sensitive positions who have no outside ties or interests, but it will not make a good impression in civil circles,” he said. And it will be said that this authority has gone to the army, and if the military does not like anyone, it will not be clear, and the bureaucracy will think that they have an extra check and interference.

On the other hand, Naveed Elahi also agrees with this and says that civil supremacy has been targeted despite formal procedures in IB and SB. That is inter-services intelligence, that is, intelligence in the armed forces, not their mandate. “

He went on to say that the second is that the IB is the largest civil intelligence agency that reports directly to the Prime Minister, with no ministry in between. But over the last few years, the IB chief has been in touch with his principal secretary instead of the prime minister. The IB is a very strong organization and does a much better job gathering information than the ISI. It should be noted that the IB also collects data at every opportunity, from recruitment of civil servants to future promotions and postings.

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Why did the Prime Minister need to make such a decision?

The answer to this question has not been received from the government. However, defence analyst Amjad Shoaib believes that this may be due to the Prime Minister’s desire and the demand for GHQ. Shahbaz Sharif probably wants to please the Establishment that made such a decision. But it is also possible that the GHQ itself said that the ISI should be involved in intelligence clearance when deploying officers. It is also possible that people who listen to the GHQ can be deployed under the guise of security clearance.

Naveed Elahi says that even Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, as the Chief Minister, liked to have three or four pages of intelligence agency reports on his desk before interviewing any officer. And this information also influenced their decisions. But as Prime Minister, giving responsibility to a military agency that is beyond its mandate while being a civil agency is beyond his comprehension.

According to Lt. Gen. R. Amjad Shoaib, after this notification, ISI will now be involved in the decision-making process .“Information was given earlier, but ISI did not make decisions, but now the appointment of any person will be subject to ISI clearance. Therefore, civil supremacy is likely to be affected, not only in the bureaucracy but also in the government as a whole. He thinks that the biggest problem in this was the appointment of judges of the judiciary. He said that during Musharraf’s tenure, the ISI had been given the task of writing to scrutinize the names of the proposed judges.

Whose information will take precedence?

So if other intelligence agencies clear an officer and the ISI does not, whose information will be given priority? To this question, Lieutenant General Amjad Shoaib says that the head will make the final decision of the civilian government. “The prime minister will make the final decision, and the ISI cannot do anything. It can only give information that such a person is not suitable for the post. However, in the future, the ISI may use this information. But Naveed Elahi believes that after this notification, the ISI will have the upper hand over the information of all the intelligence agencies.

He says, “Now the ISI has been given power and authority and now the final information on the deployment, promotion, etc. will be with the ISI.”

ISI should be under the civilian government ?

Twice in the past, attempts have been made to bring the ISI under the purview of the Interior Ministry. The first such incident occurred in 1990, during the rule of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto when a retired general was appointed head of the ISI. For the second time in this regard, the PPP government took this decision in 2008 and issued a notification. At the time, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had left for the UK at the time of the notification .BUt the Prime Minister immediately ordered the withdrawal of the declaration. And so, in less than twenty-four hours, the then government reversed its decision. The then DG ISPR said that the army had not been consulted on the matter.

It is believed that the ISI has been largely responsible for gathering external intelligence, but Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the first prime minister to mandate the ISI to gather intelligence internally to gather information about politicians. 

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