Imran Khan Embarrassed ISI By Saying It Listens To His Conversations
Prime Minister Imran Khan is not even familiar with the basic norms and principles that governor parliamentary democracy around the world. Here is the primary and basic rule or principle that provides foundation to the parliamentary form of government in each and every country that has traditionally being governed under a parliamentary democracy: The administrative, security, military and economic structures of the society and state are governed by a cabinet that serves under a prime minister elected through indirect elections in the parliament. The PM is the chief executive of the country. This in practical terms would mean that the society is under the political and administrative control of the prime minister. Sovereignty of the state and the executive authority of the government are exercised by the prime minister, who along with this cabinet is answerable to people’s representatives, sitting in the parliament.
The basic idea is that the pre-existing state machinery —that includes intelligence agencies, police, administrative machinery and services and of course military — should be managed and controlled by elected and representative authority or body of people, who in turn should face an accountability mechanism established under the constitution. The pre-existing state institutions or mechanisms survive the elected government in a parliamentary system and there are possibilities that they may outgrow the logic and policies of the state. Therefore, elected governments are tasked with the authority to oversee the working of this state machinery.
Governing doesn’t simply mean passing orders. It also means oversight that oversight in parliamentary democracy is provided by parliamentary bodies. These parliamentary bodies oversee the performance of state machinery, review their planning, probe their budgeting and ensure that none of these state institutions overstep their jurisdiction and authority. Governance, no doubt, is a complex affair, but one of the functions of the parliament is to ensure that no one among the state institutions oversteps their jurisdiction or authority.
This simple logic behind the parliamentary system is not very difficult to understand—everybody in our system understands this, but not our Prime Minister. He thinks that Pakistani Intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is a supra-parliamentary body, with the extra-constitutional or may be simply illegal task of monitoring what the Prime Minister is doing. Whom is he talking with? What is the content of his conversations, telephonic or otherwise, with the people living in the world outside the Prime Minister House and secretariat?
“ISI knows everything” said Prime Minister, Imran Khan in a television interview, “They (ISI) knows what I am doing, whom I am talking with…..they know everything”. Prime Minister Khan made the parliamentary logic or philosophy to stand on its head. Parliamentary logic or philosophy behind this system says that there should be parliamentary oversight to monitor the state institutions so that they don’t overstep their jurisdiction. Here the PM has been found telling the people that there should be an intelligence oversight over the prime minister—trust me no minister in his cabinet can claim exemption from eavesdropping in such a situation—working in the prime minister house and prime minister secretariat. What a loss. That means if the PM is being legitimately eavesdropped by intelligence agencies then what miserable conditions Pakistani people should be facing, one can imagine?
Prime Minister Khan essentially made this statement in a naïve attempt to glorify Pakistani intelligence services. He claimed that ISI was an outstanding intelligence agency of the world and that was why it knew everything, according to him. It is ironic that the Prime Minister didn’t do any service to the cause of intelligence service, whose claim (at least) was that it was a disciplined force. Taping the PM of the country and monitoring his activity will not earn ISI any applause from the world of intelligence around the globe. It will also put in doubt the credibility of Pakistani parliamentary system, which is already facing a serious allegation of serving under the thumb of military bosses.
Consider this: Imran Khan is perceived to be on the right side of the military and intelligence establishment of Pakistani state. But there are hundreds of political leaders who say they are on the wrong side of ISI. Does ISI also eavesdrop these opposition politicians? Prime minister’s assertions indicate that he considers ISI monitoring of his activities as a benign activity. Can any sensible person say that ISI’s monitoring of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s or Manzoor Pashteen’s political activities would be equally benign? Don’t these political leaders who find themselves on the wrong side of the military establishment enjoy the protection provided to them by the constitutional rights of privacy from state’s intrusions? Or will everybody have to play second fiddle to the state institutions, just like Imran Khan, to be secure in this country?
Pakistani state and its institutions have undergone a process of dominance of intelligence agencies’ perspective on national and foreign policy issues in the post-Zia period. The rulers and governors, civil and military both, see problems from the perspective of intelligence agencies. This becomes too obvious when political and military leaders make intelligence reports against any person, entity or groups their political and public positions. I will give two examples of this: this happened some two years back when Army chief General Bajwa spoke against “some Liberals” who are living outside the country and are attacking Pakistan. The video of this statement is still viral on social media. This was an attack on some Pakistan intellectuals who are residing in Washington and are critical of Pakistan state’s attempt to demolish dissent in our society. Second example is when Imran Khan said in an interview that he knew whom Nawaz Sharif was meeting in London? These two were the typical example of political and military leaders adopting murky intelligence reports as their public and political positions. The problem with this kind of policy attitude is that the enemy territory starts the moment you step out of your house in case you keep relying on intelligence reports for your political positions.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.