A war of words

Published: April 22, 2014
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The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordinance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordinance Factories Board

The extremely tragic assassination attempt on Hamid Mir is the worst demonstration of how forces within the country are trying to stifle freedom of speech. What is equally disturbing is that Geo and Hamid’s family members immediately reacted by accusing the involvement of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in it. Although discretion demanded that even if they had reasons to believe in the agency’s culpability, jumping to such hasty conclusion on the basis of some earlier threats was highly irresponsible and unwise. It is surprising that Geo, a leading electronic channel, faltered and presented a personal allegation as a part of news. It would have been more appropriate for Geo to wait for the official and media’s own committee findings, before taking any categorical position. In this way they could have avoided an adverse reaction against their channel from the military and government circles.

The ISI is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the state that is guarding Pakistan’s frontiers and ensuring the stability of the country. The insinuation that it is involved in the shooting of a renowned journalist on the basis of some differences implies that they are indulging in activities meant to destabilise the state. Imagine for a moment that the CIA is being accused by CNN or MI5 by the BBC of attempting to murder one of their countries reputed television anchors. No wonder that the Indian and Western media has gone euphoric in reporting the event. With Pakistan’s reputation and record on the safety of journalists already quite low, this incident has made it look worse and attracted international attention. It has given India — a country that never loses an opportunity to defame the ISI for supporting jihadi elements in Kashmir and against India — another opportunity to muddy its reputation. Similarly, the Afghans who blame the ISI for their ills and use it as a scapegoat for their failures will find an opportunity to intensify the verbal attacks.

Moreover, the country had hardly recovered from the debilitating war of words between the military and civilian leadership that this new front has opened up between the army and Geo, a major media house. Making this more complex is the inter-media rivalry fuelled by commercial motives. Only a few weeks back, Raza Rumi, a highly respected anchor of Express News, luckily escaped an assassination attempt although his driver unfortunately lost his life. The collective response of the media community was feeble.

The very fact that there existed a suspicion of an unlawful activity on the part of the ISI does reflect that the perception about its working, at least in some quarters, is not good. This needs to be corrected through internal reforms and greater focus on professional excellence. In the past, politicians and military dictators have used intelligence agencies to manipulate political parties and election outcomes. Some of these allegations may well be false or exaggerated but perception matters a lot and it is important that serious effort be made to correct it. Intelligence agencies should be respected. We have to understand that intelligence agencies are an indispensable and critical element of a nation’s internal and external defence. The experience of different countries is before us that when intelligence agencies have taken advantage of the opaque nature of their profession and digressed from their main mission to be arbiters of quick justice or sided with political forces on the basis of expediency, they have destabilised the state and have harmed their own institutional interests as well as that of the country.

Without the genuine support of the people, no security organisation can actualise its full potential. And this is equally true for intelligence agencies. All dynamic organisations undergo reforms to adjust to changing regional challenges and threats. Are our intelligence and security organisations too going through this internal renewal? This is the question that our leadership should be asking. We are witnessing that multiple militant groups in Pakistan are presenting new and profound challenges to intelligence agencies. Until our civilian institutions become strong, the armed forces and intelligence organisations will be the key determinants of future stability. It is, therefore, critical that they continue to build their professional competence.

In most democratic countries, intelligence agencies are subjected to parliamentary oversight on a periodic basis. This also becomes a part of legal requirement as legislation exists that parliament review its performance. It is in the institutions’ interests to undergo scrutiny for improving overall efficiency and building trust between the people’s representatives and defence institutions. Of course, most of the oversight remains secret and members are well equipped to conduct it. In a developing country like ours, this kind of expertise may be very limited and would come with experience; but a start has to be made. Even in mature democracies like the US and the UK there are only a few Congressmen or members of parliament who are considered suitable to be members of intelligence committees. Even among them there are only two or three members who are clued up. The rest of the committee members take a cue from them to vote for any legislation pertaining to intelligence and security-related matters and go by their recommendations on major issues.

Pakistan’s civilian government will have to acquire and demonstrate competence in these areas to effectively lead the nation towards stability.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • Nadir
    Apr 22, 2014 - 11:53PM

    No end to the parade of ex-Generals making excuses.

    No wonder that the Indian and Western media has gone euphoric in reporting the event. – Where has this happened? It hardly made headlines. No one cares.

    a country that never loses an opportunity to defame the ISI for supporting jihadi elements in Kashmir and against India Are you going off script! I thought we were not admitting this. Isnt Pakistan’s stance that we provide “moral support”.

    the Afghans who blame the ISI for their ills and use it as a scapegoat for their failures will find an opportunity to intensify the verbal attacks. So are mighty institutions are so weak that they cant withstand “verbal attack”?

    the armed forces and intelligence organisations will be the key determinants of future stability Wow, 1971? Did a great job there. Balochistan? Alot of stability there as well.

    US and the UK there are only a few Congressmen or members of parliament who are considered suitable to be members of intelligence committees. Nonsense, they are in those positions due to political jockying. CIA and MI6 hearings can be seen on CSPAN and BBC respectively.

    Pakistan’s civilian government will have to acquire and demonstrate competence in these areas to effectively lead the nation towards stability. If you are so enraged by the incompetence of the government, stop taking their money.

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  • ali
    Apr 23, 2014 - 12:03AM

    what the author means to say is ‘mati pao’

    Defence institutions know best what they are doing and we should blindly follow them and their stooges and lap up anything fed to us in the name of national interest and security kyunke ‘haalat kharab hain’

    Nothings gonna change

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  • Asif
    Apr 23, 2014 - 12:07AM

    For years we are hearing from Hamid Mir that if he is killed the finger should point towards ISI. Few days back according to his brother he pointed the finger at ISI DG. My question is if he has been pointing finger at ISI before anything happens, why in the world ISI would go after him? And then we have Pakistan self proclaimed imminent Journalist Ansar “The Red Line” Abbasi of the THE NEWS came with a front page article that ISI DG should resign!? If anything from this so called free judiciary and free press that we got is “non-sense”. These institutions should pay attention and heed to more pressing issue of terrorism and other immediate danger to the existence of this country.

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  • Furkan Awan
    Apr 23, 2014 - 12:09AM

    I strongly support ISI and armed forces.Long Live Pakistan.

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  • Qabil Khan
    Apr 23, 2014 - 12:18AM

    The General correctly states ‘jumping to such hasty conclusion on the basis of some earlier threats was highly irresponsible and unwise. However, the question does arise why was the agency making these ‘earlier threats’ to Hamid Mir, unless of course threatening local journalists is part of their official responsibilities.
    And there is still the case of the unsolved death of Saleem Shehzad. A post mortem report said that there were “15 torture marks” on his body, and no bullet wounds. At the time the official response was “Baseless accusations against the country’s sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad’s murder are totally unfounded”.
    .

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  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2014 - 12:23AM

    Let the General not compare ISI with CIA, which might have been the reason how it came into being but the CIA is directly under the control of the elected President of the country whereas the ISI is not! The agency must be placed under the control gremium of the Parliament, and become a bonafide entity with his head as part of the Prime Minister cabinet.

    Rex Minor

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  • imtiaz
    Apr 23, 2014 - 1:50AM

    Very valuable piece of writing.

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  • Arindom
    Apr 23, 2014 - 2:02AM

    …still that’s no reason to get him shot!

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  • Arindom
    Apr 23, 2014 - 2:08AM

    there is no need for India to “defame” the ISI. It has enough fame – thanks to Congressional hearings in US where it’s exploits are openly discussed!

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  • unbelievable
    Apr 23, 2014 - 3:07AM

    jumping to such hasty conclusion on the basis of some earlier threats was highly irresponsible and unwise.
    .
    If someone threatens you and then you get attacked it seems logical to suspect the people who threatened you. Why is that either irresponsible or “unwise”?

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  • Miran
    Apr 23, 2014 - 6:25AM

    Zindabad Hamid Mir!

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  • Nikki
    Apr 23, 2014 - 8:14AM

    General Sahib, things will never improve in Pakistan untill stern, transparent,and just ‘ accountability’ but only an honest government can do that not the CORRUPT one.

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  • Polpot
    Apr 23, 2014 - 9:11AM

    “Intelligence agencies should be respected””
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Wow yet another axiom of Pakistani Life.
    Elsewhere respect has to be earned.

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  • Nikki
    Apr 23, 2014 - 10:27AM

    @Rex Minor:

    Oversight is possible only if the government has credibility to do that,but it cant because the government itself is ‘incredible’.
    This is Pakistan, where ‘might is right ‘ prevailes.

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  • Asim Ali
    Apr 23, 2014 - 11:29AM

    Overrated, over payed, self serving and biased is quick summary of the media in Pakistan.

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  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2014 - 1:06PM

    @Nikki:

    The only credible entity in a democracy is the parliament made up of elected representatives legislators, and its committees which must have the authority to investigate all entities under secrecy. The Prime Minister should stop ordering independent enquiries by judicial authorities.
    The idea is to prevent a State within a State, revolutions and and military takeovers.

    Rex Minor

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  • Parvez
    Apr 23, 2014 - 1:58PM

    Nicely written. If looked at dispassionately the GEO News blurb at the time was indeed premature and if anything counter-productive as far as the network was concerned.

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  • Yusuf
    Apr 23, 2014 - 4:13PM

    Yes we need the armed force, that need to build their own jeep, land cruisers, boats, speed boat engine, frigates, ships, destroyers, Truck for transport, buses, all indigenous. Can the armed forces take on the challenges. A nation progress when the armed forces are self sufficient. We are not as all are deliberately Imported which cost the Citizen of Pakistan their future and children. Mir or No Mir, the Citizen of Pakistan matters. Pakistan Paindabad.

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  • NA
    Apr 23, 2014 - 5:55PM

    @Rex Minor:
    An Indian wish….

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  • Muneer
    Apr 23, 2014 - 6:15PM

    @unbelievable:
    How the ISI had threatened his life/him?.Have the organisation sent a threatening letter to him stating that,if not how he has asumed that and what is the reason that he feel threatened?.Until he gives tangible proof of that,Hamid Mir, Geo TV and their backers are defaming/weakening Pakistan for their vested interests.  

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  • Assad
    Apr 23, 2014 - 6:29PM

    @Rex Minor:
    I beg to differ. The general here is making the case for ISI to be under parliamentary oversight, which is not too different from what goes on with CIA reporting to the congress and not the President of the United States as you claim. Despite the oversight, the CIA runs programs which in many situations have no oversight or are ducked under broader programs in order to make them opaque to lawmakers. This is the nature of intelligence work and Pakistan’s own efforts in this regard through ISI have not been bad.

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  • Shot
    Apr 23, 2014 - 7:36PM

    Pathetic! Maybe if you wrote about the importance of human rights in Balochistan you could understand why this happened!

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  • Z H Hashmi
    Apr 23, 2014 - 7:55PM

    Only performance and service to 180 million demos may bring supremacy to the civilian masters. If they continue blame Military to have ruled for the half of the time , they are at least responsible for the rest f the half. In the military half as well , they have been enjoying perks , privileges and power to serve their vested interests . Mr NS has to decide , on whose side is he ? serving personal vendetta or serving people of Pakistan ( and Pakistan means beyond ring road of Lahore and upper /central plains of Province as well)

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  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2014 - 9:32PM

    @Assad:

    What I have stated are facts, not my opinion ! CIA does not report to the congress, but to the executive branch whose head is the President. The congress can recommend, and the President can veto and this is how thhe Afro American land. The head of ISI must be appointed by the executive branch of the Governunt and report to the Prime Minister of the country.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Sexton Blake
    Apr 23, 2014 - 11:30PM

    If the Pakistan Government develops the so called competence and maturity exhibited by the the US/UK Governments, Pakistan will be in real trouble.

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  • Jibran
    Apr 23, 2014 - 11:42PM

    Geo News has just aired what Hamid Mir has said previously in close rooms, his brother and other fellow journalists has said the same that he was facing a threat from agencies because of his views on Balochistan and Musharaf. All mediamen should support Geo News and should not become prey to covert agencies propaganda and intimidation. there are quite many instances where agencies were clearly involved in Murduring, Kidnapping and beating journalists. All of you need to wake up now or it will be too late. Support Geo for your own safety.Recommend

  • Nayyar
    Apr 24, 2014 - 12:01AM

    @Nadir: Sorry to say that your eye on the western media and indian media is very weak…..your courage to write such nonsense explains u should not be advised to go and watch the certain channels as you if sincerely try will definitely find out but as you obviously are spoon fed by the commercial media will never findout the truth. One thing might help….go watch the movie “page 3″…..u will enjoy and learn as well.

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  • Nayyar
    Apr 24, 2014 - 12:22AM

    Well this article is for people who understand what the agencies are in fact, not for media fed people……..at all. For the knowledge of readers its a completely different world down there, its an other spy agency or group of agencies which have been accommodated by the elected governments in past which have successfully injected this mistrust in mind of masses that our forces are of no good and ISI is another villain.
    With respect the masses should not forget that the PMs(both of PMLN and PPP) in past have given interviews to CNN & BBC and talked about our top secret agendas and had tried to trade a few VIPs for a few bucks to the CIA. What to talk about putting ISI under the PM (which unfortunately at the moment is) any incamera briefing conducted at any level whether conducted for VIPs or other parliamentarians left its skid marks just outside the door. These illiterates whom we elect can never keep their mouth shut on the very sensitive issues regarding security of Pakistan.
    We request the forces and ISI to show their real face to the public as to who is who and what is what. This is it and its the need of the hour. Media bashing is the most favourite drama nowadays and we enjoy it forgetting that this is another form of ghunda gardi……….

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  • Polpot
    Apr 24, 2014 - 5:58PM

    The hand of the Indian Agency Raw is cle4ar as daylight
    ( Afterall what are neighbours for?)
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Now lets build peace between the estabilishment and the Media.

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