June 15, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3918

An Open Letter to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief: The ISI 'Is Accused of… Kidnapping, Torturing and Sometimes Killing Dissenters… [And] Determining, Arbitrarily, What Pakistan's National Interest Is'

June 15, 2011
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 3918

Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence

On the night of May 28, 2011, the well-known Pakistani investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was picked up by agents of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate for penning an article in which he examined the existence of Al-Qaeda cells within the Pakistan Navy. The article was written in the wake of the May 22 terror attack on PNS Mehran, Pakistan Navy headquarters in Karachi.[1] His body was found June 1 in Mandi Bahauddin, about 130 km from Islamabad.

Pakistani journalists have accused the ISI of murdering Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was renowned for his knowledge of Al-Qaeda networks inside Pakistani military. The ISI, through a rare statement issued by an unidentified official, denied its involvement in the murder of Shahzad.[2]

However, media groups, human rights activists and ordinary Pakistani citizens all suspect the ISI of having a role in the murder, largely because the premier Pakistani intelligence organization, which sees itself as the guardian of Pakistan, has a long-standing history of involvement in kidnapping and murdering journalists and political dissenters, in forming political alliances and unseating incumbent leaders, and in establishing and protecting terrorist organizations for use in furthering Pakistan's strategic objectives in Afghanistan, Kashmir and India.

In a recent open letter to ISI Chief Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha, renowned Pakistani commentator Ejaz Haider discussed the ISI's varied roles over the years, and urged the ISI-military combine to stop defining Pakistan's national interest as per its own liking. It should be noted that Lt.-Gen. Pasha is wanted in a New York court over his agency's role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which several American citizens were killed.

Following are excerpts from the open letter:[3]

"The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate – The Agency You Head – Is Being Accused Of… Murder... [Of] Monitoring the Media, [Of] Kidnapping, Torturing and Sometimes Killing Dissenters…"

"Dear General Pasha,

"I write this letter to you in the wake of the gruesome and gratuitous murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, friend to many, including myself. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate – the agency you head – is being accused of Saleem's murder. You must also know that the ISI is widely reviled and dreaded at home.

"For an agency that was set up primarily for strategic intelligence, this is quite an achievement. It is accused of driving in its own lane, monitoring the media, kidnapping, torturing and sometimes killing dissenters, political and otherwise, determining, arbitrarily, what Pakistan's national interest is and how best we should go about pursuing it.

"You must also know that some former officers have not only admitted to electoral fraud, rigging, making and breaking of political alliances, buying people through a combination of carrots and sticks, and browbeating the media, but consider having done so as part of their remit and in the best national interest. Perish the thought that any one of them would say peccavi, since some actually boast about it."

"The ISI is Not Accountable to Anyone; It is All-Powerful; It Can Kill Mercilessly – And... It Has Killed Saleem… What Do You Say to This?"

"Whispers there always have been. But now much is being said aloud. The ISI is not accountable to anyone; it is all-powerful; it can kill mercilessly and, in this case, it has killed Saleem, so these whispers say. What do you say to this? Shrug and move on, as if it makes no difference, that this is about a few flies buzzing around, a minor nuisance at worst? The man, who now lies buried after being tortured to death, leaves behind three children and a wife. To me this does not look like anything minor.

"And what has the agency you head done so far? Nothing, beyond getting an unnamed official to say that while the 'unfortunate and tragic death of Syed Saleem Shahzad is a source of concern for the entire nation,' 'the incident should not be used to target and malign the country's security agencies.' Well, sir, to me this is totally unacceptable. What makes the security agencies exempt from criticism or accountability, especially if they are considered enemies by the very people they are supposed to protect?

"I believe in giving everyone a fair hearing, but the ISI has to do much more than get an unnamed official to issue feeble condolences and follow it up with a veiled threat to the media to deserve such a hearing. And as far as maligning the agency is concerned or knowing what national interest is, this being no time for mincing words, let me assure you that I understand the theoretical and practical dimensions of statecraft better and more deeply than your entire agency. And I am not the only one."

"I Have Said This Before and I Will Say It Again: The Military-ISI Complex Has No Business Defining Pakistan's Interest; That is Our Job, and We, the Civilians, Will Do It"

"Now, for a moment, let's assume that the ISI has not killed Saleem. Let's also assume that much of what is being said about the ISI is the product of a heat-oppressed civilian brain, not a reality. Perhaps you would still like to know why people think such things of the ISI. So, here goes.

"Nation-states are not biological entities; they are, to use the cliché, 'imagined communities.' This, as the starting point, should give you some idea about how easily the concept of the state and its interest can be problematized. Democratic states garner the loyalties of their people through a sense of sharing and participation, through constitutionalism.

"In comparison, totalitarian and oppressive states use fear to keep the flock together. History shows that the latter break up at some point. No amount of oppression can keep the people chained; it is only a matter of time. Instead, oppression begets violence and deep turmoil. The problem with oppression is thus that it attracts what it sets out to avoid. Therein lies both the irony and the paradox.

"Allied with this point is the idea of civilian supremacy, the fact that while the state becomes overarching, those representing it at any point of time have to operate on the basis of accepted and acceptable rules of the game. They are all accountable through two levels of agency. The first and primary level of agency is granted by the people through elections to their representatives; the second, a much more restrictive level of agency, is accorded by the peoples' representatives to bureaucratic institutions, including the military and its intelligence agencies.

"You, sir, are therefore a servant twice over, as are all your officers and other personnel. You are answerable to our representatives and those representatives are answerable to us. Obviously, theory does not match fact in Pakistan and it is this anomaly which has brought the country to the brink of disaster.

"I have said this before and I will say it again: The military-ISI complex has no business defining Pakistan's interest. That is our job and we, the civilians, will do it through our representatives. Your job is to implement policies, not formulate them."

"Given What the People Think Of the Agency You Head, One of the Biggest Evolving Threats Appears to Emanate From an Organization [the ISI] Whose Very Reason for Existence is to Identify and Evaluate Threats to This State"

"Since it is your job to identify threats, you must understand the deep fault lines developing in this state. Today's disarray is the product of flawed policies and even more flawed attempts at nation-building. Strategic vision, like charity, begins at home. If the people of this country feel proud to be Pakistanis, you will have that strength at your back. If they don't, that makes you very weak too. And you can't beat people into submission; nor kill them and expect all will be hunky-dory.

"It is all about the fundamentals. Unless you get the fundamentals right, no amount of cloak-and-dagger stuff will reduce the threats the country faces. In fact, given what the people think about the agency you head, one of the biggest evolving threats appears to emanate from an organization [the ISI] whose very reason for existence is to identify and evaluate threats to this state. Could there be a deeper irony than this?

"I met you for the first time in November 2007, when you were director-general of military operations. I know you to be a straight-talking soldier. I would expect that you would do everything to prove that Saleem was not murdered by the ISI – or, conversely, if the spoor is traced back to your agency, that you would ensure that whoever is responsible for it, no matter how highly placed, would face the law as a common murderer.

"That is the only honorable thing to do, and nothing less would do, or be acceptable. That is also the only way you can save this country."


[1] For excerpts of his article, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3881, "Pakistani Journalist's Report Examines the Presence of Al-Qaeda Cells Within the Pakistan Navy," June 1, 2011, Pakistani Journalist's Report Examines the Presence of Al-Qaeda Cells Within the Pakistan Navy.

[2], Pakistan, June 2, 2011.

[3] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 8, 2011. The text of the letter was lightly edited for clarity.

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