Agencies of little intelligence

December 21, 2014

Unless the nameless and faceless citizens voluntarily become the eyes and ears of the intelligence brain, real and timely intelligence won’t happen. And citizens won’t become voluntary eyes and ears till the internal intelligence-gathering agencies are moved away from the shadow of military, and military-led intelligence

Agencies of little intelligence

Peshawar carnage, one of the country’s worst national tragedies, was avoidable if we had a regular, functional and inward-looking intelligence network. The fact that they were not able to get timely intelligence is the worst failure of our civilian and non-civilian intelligence agencies.

If intelligence-gathering and processing operations are not redesigned after this failure, and agencies keep doing more of the same, we should be prepared for more hurt and humiliation.

Unless the nameless and faceless citizens voluntarily become the eyes and ears of the intelligence brain, real and timely intelligence won’t happen. And citizens won’t become voluntary eyes and ears till we move internal intelligence gathering agencies away from the shadow of military, and military-led intelligence.

In our case, most of the country’s security and consequently intelligence thinking and approach is premised on the assumption of an outside enemy who would destabilise the country through internal abetters. Thus, such efforts are termed counter-intelligence and its tackling counter-terrorism. People responsible for guiding, supervising and using the intelligence need to realise that the world has changed from the time when we designed our intelligence setups.

Pakistan’s three leading agencies viz. Military Intelligence (MI), the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB), were formed in 1947, 1948 and 1949. Though MI and IB we had as part of colonial heritage and they were only renamed. Incidentally, the American CIA was also set up in 1947, about a month after Pakistan came to being.

After 1947, when the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army gave themselves new titles as the newly baptised children of the British Indian Army, we got General Frank Messervy as Commander in Chief, and India got Sir Robert Lockhart. And, Mr. Robert Cawthome was named Deputy Chief of Staff who set up (rebranded) the MI, which he headed too. In 1948, after the reported failure of intelligence before and during the first Kashmir conflict, MI was considered insufficient and ISI emerged as the brainchild of Cawthome who then became its second head but first DG and remained so from 1950 to 1959.

This bit of history is important to denote that in the post World War II context in general, and after the first Kashmir conflict in particular for Pakistan, military was considered an important part of national security, and rightly so. The defence strategy of the time assumed an outside and named enemy, and the intelligence gathering operations premised on assisting the military. The intelligence agencies (MI, ISI & CIA) had a similar framework -- to assist the respective force with intelligence to inform the top-level decisions to counter the enemy.


Domestic security and maintenance of public order were left to the police and the associated intelligence gathering was the job of IB and various local level civilian agencies.

However, when we had our first forced political boss from the Army, General Ayub, the MI and ISI were also assigned to keep an eye on the anti-government (who later became anti-State) politicians. The agencies became so inward-looking, and wrongly so, that they were accused of intelligence failure that led to the fall of Dhaka on Dec 16, 1971. Come General Zia, and the Afghan Jihad Inc., the CIA took it upon itself to help expand the ISI’s strategic operations and outreach, on the lines the CIA had evolved and expanded. With more robust force and resources at disposal, the regime assigned the ISI an additional task (which later became one of the main tasks) of keeping an eye on the anti-government, and anti-state elements.

All these years, the IB was also used to keep an eye on the internal recalcitrant elements who are not in the strict and traditional sense ‘enemy’. With an expanded and dominating ISI, and by deputing Army officers as heads of IB during the 1990s, and in the Musharraf era, the domestic civil intelligence agencies also got dominated by the military style of intelligence. During the recent years, the domestic agencies were initially sidelined, then marginalised and finally they became virtually absent from the equation.

Thus a new hierarchy came into being in both the political and security domains. The military-dominated agencies started calling the shots in intelligence-gathering, assessment and response mechanisms.

When months before the Dec 16, 2014 carnage, the National Intelligence Directorate was formed with over 30 agencies of various kinds, including MI, ISI, FIA and the IB, its outlook, approach and strategy were dominated and influenced by the ISI and MI. During Zarb-e-Azb, no civilian agency had its eyes and ears on ground, either in the conflict zones, or in Peshawar (or for that matter elsewhere). Since the Army, and its associated agencies are considered the ‘enemy’ by those who we are fighting, no one came forward to assist and enrich the domestic intelligence.

All over the world the most successful agencies, with regards to domestic safety and maintenance of public order, are those who make the nameless, faceless citizens their eyes and ears. Such agencies are mostly civilian, associated with the police, and seek to anticipate, pre-empt and paralyse the internal threat before it strikes. Citizens who opt to become eyes and ears of the national intelligence are not traditional ‘informers’ who give a tip and get paid; they are informed citizens who volunteer out of civic responsibility to contribute to common good of public safety.

Thus, in order to avoid the repeat carnage like Peshawar, it is imperative that we redesign the intelligence gathering and policing, which are sharply distinct from external intelligence.

So, we need a National Intelligence Agency (NIA) with functions of internal intelligence/assessment. It can be formed with the bright and the best minds from IB and ISI but it must be accountable to the parliament. The successful parallel example of this redesign is the Motorway Police that we carved out of Punjab Police and the old traffic police. While NIA looks at the right spots through the right lens, ISI/MI can keep playing their international league.

Agencies of little intelligence