Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ISI Abducted Me: Aafia Siddiqui Tells Her Lawyer

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

After the guilty verdict in the high profile trial of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in New York, defense attorney Elaine Sharp- the only member of the defense team that Dr. Siddiqui has any relations with said: “Dr. Siddiqui told us that she was picked-up by Pakistani men in two black cars. These were people of Pakistani intelligence. You know- she said ISI.”

Following guilty verdict several popular TV Talk Show hosts in Pakistan also questioned ISI’s role in her alleged abduction in 2003. Common sentiments were that the ‘daughter of the nation’ was arrested and handed over to the Americans.

Mention of ISI evokes several conflicting emotions – and fear for Pakistanis. Just as mentioning CIA occasionally evokes images of global conspiracy and the KGB calls gulags to mind, the ISI has come to represent political deceit in Pakistan. And, during General Pervez Musharraf’s rule as more and more Pakistanis started to disappear in thin air, ISI became more enigmatic.

But current sentiments in Pakistan are an excellent opportunity for the democratic government to restructure ISI. The turmoil in Pakistan’s past has led to censure of the ISI.

A visible feature of the ISI’s history that has done great damage to its reputation is the continual deterioration of civilian institutions due to multiple military coups. Despite some improvements in civil-military relations in recent years, the army remains a dominant actor in Pakistan’s political makeup.

Disappearance of hundreds and previous abuses of power has stigmatized ISI to point that business as usual means leading the country into absolute abyss.

Although reforming ISI will be difficult, the good news is that with patience, resolve, and international assistance, Pakistan’s government can indeed reassert civilian control over the intelligence community.

Luckily for Pakistan, there are predecessors to take notes from. Indonesia and Chile have both undergone transformations in the intelligence arena and have plenty to offer Pakistan by way of example.

Pakistan’s government must reinforce the separation between civilian and military intelligence agencies. The integration of former ISI agents into other civilian bodies, particularly the IB, should be limited or stopped. Cross-recruitment prevents organizations from becoming independent.

Pakistan also needs to strengthen the police force. A better-trained and better-equipped police force can do a better job of counterterrorism, which work is currently exploited by the intelligence agencies to legitimize their control over politics in Pakistan.

Ignoring the urgent need to establish supremacy over the intelligence community would be a grave mistake on the part of Pakistan’s civilian government. Reducing the role of the military in the intelligence sector will allow the government to consolidate itself domestically, so it should be a top priority.

In addition, government control over military and intelligence will cast a positive light on the state of Pakistan’s emerging democracy, and will improve international opinion of Pakistan.

If Pakistanis honestly consider Dr. Aafia Siddiqui “daughter of the nation,” they must demand structural changes in how ISI operates and demand their government to demonstrate political will to trace all the disappeared.

With an independent judiciary and a democratic government, Pakistan has opportunity that does not come too often. It is encouraging that the Supreme Court has resumed hearings of disappearance cases but the democratically elected government has the responsibility to immediately reveal details hundreds of missing people, and hold to account those responsible — including the country’s security and intelligence agencies.

According to the Defense of Human Rights, a Pakistani organization that campaigns on behalf of the relatives of the disappeared, out of 416 enforced disappearance cases filed in the Supreme Court since 2005, 195 cases remain pending since 3 November 2007Ibrahim Sajid Malick

It is not sufficient to vent anger against the United States alone- Pakistan must clean house first. All those responsible for selling men, women, and children like slaves must be exposed. Otherwise, this outburst of anger, national pride and bravado – statements like “we will go bring the daughter of nation back,” are meaningless, insincere and belong only on soap operas or lollywood movies.

And, the international community has a vital role to play here too. On one hand they blame Pakistan’s problems on the ISI, but still maintain close relations with the agency. Often, these relations undermine the democratic government and vindicate the very intelligence actors that need to be controlled.

This double standard must be avoided by direct involvement with the Pakistani government, rather than going through intelligence services.

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