Thursday October 28, 2021

An undiscussed angle of mess surrounding DG ISI’s appointment

Generally, the announcement for the DG ISI’s appointment is made by the ISPR following the discussion between the PM and the army chief.

October 15, 2021
PM Imran Khan. File photo
PM Imran Khan. File photo

ISLAMABAD: For many years, the appointment of the DG ISI has largely been a verbal affair between the prime minister and the army chief. There is hardly any record available in the PM’s Office, Interior Division or the Defence Ministry of a formal summary (for the PM) being moved containing a panel of shortlisted officers for appointment as spymaster for the top intelligence agency of the country.

Sources in the civilian bureaucracy told The News that the present mess over the appointment of the DG ISI contains an undiscussed angle that exposes the incompetence of the bureaucracy in the PM’s Office. These sources insist that those who had suggested to the prime minister to ask for the panel of shortlisted officers and the summary from the military had no knowledge of the established tradition of how the DG ISI is appointed.

A similar mess, it is said, was created when the incumbent army chief was given an extension where the bureaucracy, which is meant to guide the political masters about procedures and processes, failed to draft a simple notification, leading to a huge embarrassment for the Imran Khan government.

The sources said that what has been successfully practiced before without causing any controversy like the one facing the country now, is the result of a lack of knowledge about the procedure adopted in past appointments of successive DGs ISI by different governments.

It is said that the usual practice has been that the army chief verbally discusses the appointment of the DG ISI with the prime minister. The PM verbally gives his nod following which a note from the army chief’s office is brought to the prime minister, who either signs or simply ticks the name of the officer appointed as DG ISI. Generally, the announcement for the DG ISI’s appointment is made by the ISPR following the discussion between the PM and the army chief.

No summary is moved either by the Defence or Interior ministries or any other ministry. Neither of them is involved in the procedural matter. According to a source, for the same reason, the Prime Minister Office after the recent announcement of the military appointments looked for past summaries in the PM Office and other relevant ministries but found nothing. For the appointment of the DG ISI there are no official deliberations, like engaging secretaries or ministries. There has also been no precedent of interviewing a panel of shortlisted officers to appoint one of them for the post of the DG ISI.

The ISI was created after independence through an executive order. No legislation has even been done for the ISI and its role. Initially, the main mandate of the ISI was to identify the enemy’s infiltration into the defence forces because it was feared during the initial years of the country's independence that the enemy's spies might try to move into the defence forces.

The agency was given a political role during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tenure. Bhutto had created a political cell in the ISI. In later years and decades, the ISI did remarkably well to expand its strategic operations for the country’s security and defence. Its exposure to the Afghan war was critically important for its capacity building and partnership with key agencies of other countries. Its scope of operations further expanded to counter terrorism and counterintelligence. Unfortunately, the agency has over time been repeatedly used for political engineering, which remains a blot on its otherwise extraordinary performance for the security and defence of Pakistan. Today, the ISI is widely recognized as one of the best intelligence agencies in the world.