Originally Published 2013-07-12 09:24:55 Published on Jul 12, 2013
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to the ISI HQ at Aabpara, Islamabad, on July 11 has raised eyebrows over its timing and content. Sharif and his ministerial colleagues stayed at the ISI HQ for five hours and were briefed by the chiefs of the Army and the ISI.
Sharif at ISI HQ
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to the ISI HQ at Aabpara, Islamabad, on July 11 has raised eyebrows over its timing and content. Sharif and his ministerial colleagues stayed at the ISI HQ for five hours and were briefed by the Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief, Lt. General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi. Other key ISI officers present at the meeting were ISI Deputy DG Major Gen Sahibzada Asfandyar Patodi, ISI DG Counter-terrorism Operations Major General Naveed Mukhtar, DG Security Major General Sajjad Rasul, DG Counterintelligence Major General Nasir Dilawar Shah and ISI sector commanders Major Gen Naveed Ahmed (Sindh), Major General Raja Aftab (Punjab), Major General Tayab Azam (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Major General Iftikhar Amir (Balochistan). The visit, a rare one for a Pakistani premier, comes close on the heels of a leaked Abbottabad Commission report which squarely held the intelligence agency and Pakistan Army guilty of negligence, if not complicity, in the US Special Forces raid on May 2, 2011 which killed al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. By visiting the ISI HQ, in the midst of serious allegations of complicity and failure on the part of senior military leadership, including Kayani, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is sending a clear signal on who is in command. His emphasis on the absence of coordination among the intelligence agencies was a significant pointer. The Prime Minister asked the ISI chief to report to his office all matters which are of national importance. He also made it clear that he was setting up a nodal coordinating mechanism for intelligence agencies at the Interior Ministry. The ministry is currently headed by Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, a close confidante of Nawaz Sharif and a known sceptic of the military establishment. Khan had in the sparred openly with the powerful ISI chief. The new directives, not yet officially declared, fits in with the decision to set up a National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). The bill for setting up the authority has recently been passed by both the houses of parliament. The authority will have a board of governors headed by the Prime Minister with provincial chief ministers, Interior Secretary, DG ISI, DG Intelligence Bureau, DG Military Intelligence, DG Federal Investigating Agency and IGs of all provinces. Nawaz Sharif had promised in his party's manifesto to set up a similar institutional mechanism with the final authority vested in the office of Prime Minister. Besides the new national security policy, the other key issues discussed during the meeting were Afghanistan, the Abbottabad report leak, the sectarian killings and dealing with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP presents one of the most serious challenges to Pakistan's security. Attempts to contain the terrorist group, through a combination of military offensive and peace talks, since December 2007 have met with minor success. The group in fact has exploited the negotiations to expand its strength and reach with some of the attacks targeting key military and intelligence installations in the heart of Punjab, hundreds of miles away from its stronghold in North Waziristan. The army has so far been shy of launching a full-fledged military offensive, given the disastrous consequences in the past and the handicap of running on a duplicitous policy of `good` and `bad` terrorists. Given its own poor military track record in dealing with the terrorist group since 2007, the army had shifted the onus of launching a military offensive to the civilian establishment sometime in 2010. This is the line which the military leadership took during their meeting with the Prime Minister. They told Nawaz Sharif that there were serious opposition from political parties to a strong military offensive in the tribal areas. They recommended a "surgical" cleaning operation to eliminate the anti-state militants and terrorists holed up in the tribal areas. Prime Minister Sharif has called for an All Party Meeting on the new national security policy this month. It was earlier scheduled for July 12 but was postponed to complete consultations with key stakeholders. Sharif is scheduled to visit the GHQ Rawalpindi soon and will follow it up with briefings from key ministries and civilian intelligence and security agencies. (The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.