By S. M. Hali

Traditionally, Pakistani politics is murky and gets even murkier, when security agencies jump into the fray. The unwarranted role of the intelligence agencies in domestic politics was introduced by military dictators and politicians themselves. In 1958, when General Ayub Khan became Chief Martial Law Administrator, he expanded the role of intelligence agencies in monitoring opposition politicians, and sustaining military rule in Pakistan. He used the intelligence agencies during the general elections in Pakistan while facing Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah to provide inputs to the incumbent president. In erstwhile East Pakistan, too intelligence agencies were utilized to keep track of the activities of Bengali politicians and intellectuals. In later years, the intelligence agencies have been blamed for creating political alliances and even rigging the elections at the behest of the ruling junta. With time, big money entered the game; one example is the "Mehrangate" scandal, in which top officials of an intelligence agency were given large sums of money by Yunus Habib (the owner of Mehran Bank) to deposit the agency’s foreign exchange reserves in Mehran Bank. Many a politician owes his/her debut to intelligence agencies.

The history of Pakistan’s modern intelligence agencies dates back to the colonial times. In that era, the intelligence services, particularly the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the colonial police, were primarily concerned with protecting the British Raj from any threat to its existence and continuity, and the greatest of that threat was perceived to come from the political left. Thus in the 1920s, when anti- imperialist movements were prevailing globally and in South Asia, the British intensified their surveillance of the left in their Indian colony. Several “criminal conspiracy” cases were orchestrated by the provincial CID networks against a number of trade union leaders and left intellectuals. Two of these cases that attracted much publicity locally and internationally became known as the Kanpur Conspiracy case (1925) and the Meerut Conspiracy case (1929). The accused, in both of these cases were charged with entering into conspiracy to “deprive the King of the sovereignty of British India” under Section 121-A of the Indian Penal Code (1860). After the creation of Pakistan this pattern of surveillance and harassment of the left continued. In March 1951, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan disclosed a conspiracy to overthrow his government. Soon thereafter a number of left political activists and litterateurs including Faiz Ahmed Faiz were arrested and jailed.

  Damascus Street Notes

In the recent past, the political wing of the military intelligence agencies has been shut down and the indulgence and dalliance with political leaders and parties has also been curtailed. Unfortunately, some political leaders, who fail to make their entry into the corridors of power through democratic means, continue to approach the military to ambush the democratic process and install them at the seat of government through the backdoor. It is a healthy trend that the military has ceased to succumb to the pressures of this nature and is steering clear of the aspiration of entering the power portals. However, the politicians, do not refrain themselves from besmirching the good name of the intelligence agency. Observing certain political leaders rising to unparalleled heights of popularity, they are quick to brand such politicians to be the protégé of the intelligence agencies, ignoring their mass appeal and public support by dint of their own hard work.

The time has come for the masses themselves to judge, which is a leader worth his/her salt and who merits receiving the confidence of the people to represent them in the parliament. With a vibrant and free media, which does not leave any stone unturned in exposing wrongdoing and transgression and a free and fair judicial system prevalent in Pakistan, it is becoming exceedingly difficult for politicians to get away with sleaze and perfidy. While corruption scandals are being exposed, simultaneously, electoral malpractices are also being unearthed, thus paving the way for free and fair elections. For corrupt and dishonest politicians to slander the clean ones, accusing them of being propped up by intelligence agencies will not hold water any longer. Some critics of the intelligence agencies accuse them of having become another Frankenstein, an unbridled demon, a state within a state. Such critics should remember that intelligence agencies are tools in the hands of the government, which can be used at its whim. If the government of the day continues to use the intelligence agencies for securing the national interests, it is welcome but any effort to misuse it for dallying in politics is abhorrent and should be avoided.