Recently, well known columnist Kamran Shafi (incidentally, not a PPP supporter) suggested in Dawn that the ISI have a civilian head. As evidence, Mr. Shafi points out that the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies are all civilian run. Also, though, there was the notion that democratic countries are headed by civilian, not military leaders. A strong national defense is vital to protecting a democracy, but the final rule must lie with the people. Now, another well respected columnist and government critic writes that there is a growing involvement of military in traditionally civilian domains.
On Tuesday, a front-page headline in Dawn proclaimed: ‘Intelligence agencies looking into oil, gas deals’. The accompanying article goes on to report: ‘According to sources, a team of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) has collected record of the proposed transactions and interviewed the managing director of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and some senior officials of the petroleum ministry.’
Who authorised agencies run by the military to investigate commercial affairs? To whom is the ISI/MI team going to present its findings? To what purpose will the findings be applied? None of these questions have appeared to worry many here.
Fixated as the media and the public are on the corruption allegations that are churning the political waters at the moment, it seems to matter little who is probing corruption and why — just as long as someone is, there’s hope that the ‘dirty’ politicians can be drained from the swamp. It’s a simple, visceral reaction in a messy place where there are few good options: corruption, bad; those fighting corruption, good.
But bad as corruption may be, the revelation of the ISI/MI probe is, or ought to be, equally, if not more, unsettling. It is yet another piece of evidence that the transition to democracy, already shaky because of the political sins of the politicians, is headed in the wrong direction, and that the military is perhaps quietly working to nudge it in that wrong direction.
Vital to our national defense is a strong military, but also an independent civilian government that can work to secure strong diplomatic ties with other nations. Just as it would be inefficient for the military to run the business sector, so it would harm our national interests to move away from a civilian democracy that represents the people back towards military dictatorship.
By strengthening both domains and building the bonds that help them work together, Paksitan will be stronger and more resilient in these troublesome times. By cutting off one leg, though, we will only topple ourselves.