Reforming Pakistan’s security agencies

March 21, 2009

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has put out a paper on the need to reform Pakistan’s intelligence agencies just as army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is winning much praise for playing what is seen as a decisive role in defusing the country’s latest political crisis and saving democracy.

French scholar Frederic Grare says in the paper the reform and “depoliticisation” of the agencies, in particular the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is imperative.

Grare says there is no magic formula to transform overnight an authoritarian regime into a full-fledged democracy but says there’s no excuse for the government to sit on its hands (“patience should not be an alibi for inaction”).

Among his recommendations is that the government stand up to the military whenever necessary: “There can be no soft substitute for the fact that the director general of the ISI is legally accountable primarily to the prime minister and the not the chief of army staff.” 

It’s no doubt a coincidence the paper came out just as the “long march” crisis was defused with Kayani’s help. He and by extension the military have not won so much praise for ages.

One Pakistani newspaper even had a headline  “Army rescues democracy” .  A confrontation between the civilian leaders and the top brass would seem to be the last thing on anyone’s mind. As far as the international community is concerned, Grare says the issue of democratic control of the agencies is primarily the consequence of its concern with international terrorism.

Western countries can either facilitate or inhibit the process, but they will be affected by the outcome through the persistence
or disappearance of terrorism emanating from the tribal areas, he says.

 ”The threat of terrorism will persist as long as the ISI continues nurturing a number of extremist groups operating within
and beyond Pakistan’s borders,” he says.

Grare also points out an interesting contradiction: “The same Western governments that today blame the Pakistani state for its
inability to control the agencies are maintaining working relations with these very same agencies, thus undermining their
own purpose and the credibility of the Pakistan government as well as its legitimacy.”

[File photo of former ISI chief Hamid Gul during a protest in Islamabad]

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