Benazir lashes out at ISI, Foreign Office
May 2, 2000
WASHINGTON: Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto on Monday blamed some elements in Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence for working against the PPP governments and damaging Pakistan’s interests at international level. “ISI and MI in both my terms started to destabilise my governments when they did not like my policy,” Benazir told Washington-based Pakistan Voice magazine in an interview. “But they did this under cover and clearance from the presidents whom they managed to dupe and use as pawns.” Agreeing to the perception that the ISI dominates Pakistan foreign policy decisions, Benazir, however, did not absolve civilian leaders of responsibility of pursuing an isolationist policy. “ISI cannot be blamed for this alone. Civilian leaders should have the courage to lay down what needs to be done.”
She said ISI has strong views and as an institution, it should have the right to have its own interpretation of security. “However, it is for the government, after listening to the ISI and the Foreign Office to decide. As prime minister, I sometimes listened to the ISI and sometimes to the Foreign Office and sometimes worked out a consensus.”
She said the “rogue elements” had sympathies and their own agendas … ISI mostly adhered to clear order “although they may have tried to drag their feet about it in the hope that I would forget.” Benazir said the ISI, as well as the Foreign Office, were under strict orders to ensure that the Taliban did not unilaterally cross into Kabul.
“Until my brother was killed and the government lost authority, this was maintained. I gave ISI orders to arrest some individuals suspected of kidnapping Western tourists in occupied Kashmir and after much foot dragging this was done.
“Sometimes, I went along with ISI proposals although I did not agree with the strength of the argument. For example, I wanted to accept Soviet foreign minister Schevernadze’s proposal for the peaceful political solution of Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal, which was due. ISI did not agree, wanting to give the Mujahideen the taste of victory by marching into Kabul as conquerors.” Having studied the Vietnam war, she said, she did not buy that the Mujahideen would be able to do this. “However, I did not have the heart to stop them from trying because they were so convinced they could do it and had paid such a heavy price fighting for freedom.” Benazir said she found that many officers, including ambassador rank, wanted to keep on the good side of ISI thinking they were the permanent government and “the PPP a temporary guest.” She said ambassadors generally respected would report to ISI on an unofficial level and seek briefings from them. They would then argue the ISI line from the Foreign Office. Barring a handful of ISI members whose actions damaged the country’s standing and led to the ruination of the country by destabilising the PPP government, Benazir said most of its officers were pure professionals. “They worked long hours, neglecting their families to implement decisions. They risked their lives and went into war zones. Throughout they kept acts of heroism secret taking satisfaction in doing their duty.” Benazir said Pakistan is facing isolation because it is defying democratic concerns of the outside world.
“In the last decade Pakistan has veered from being a respected and valued partner in the international community to being a pariah. The fact is that when the PPP, and through it the people, were in power, Pakistan’s respect within the international community was at an all-time high.” Benazir said Pakistan was receiving huge assistance packets or it was receiving huge inputs of foreign investment. “The US assistance package of $4.6 billion sanctioned in 1989 was jeopardised due to the overthrow of the PPP government in 1990. In 1995 Pakistan got the Brown Amendment and a billion dollars in cash and supply. Pakistan’s support of the Kashmir movement was recognised and respected.”
She said the denial of a democratic political system is at the heart of Pakistan’s political crisis. “It has brought to power puppets of mavericks who fought the Afghan war. They have spawned the politics of terrorism, narcotics and lawlessness. They have used the axe of false scandals to bring political and economic ruin to the country.”
At present, she said, Pakistan’s foreign policy is an isolationist one. “We are defying international trends towards openness, transparency, human rights, women’s rights, minorities rights and as such becoming marginalised.” She said the inability of the post-PPP regimes to deal with important issues pertaining to conflict management, terrorism, proliferation, consensus building in Afghanistan has led to international frustration.
“Until and unless Pakistan begins addressing concerns of the outside world, its isolation will continue. There are those that believe nuclear blackmail will make us stronger and more secure. In fact, the reverse is happening and we are imploding from within after having detonated the nuclear devices.”
She said that there was a clear shift in the US policy towards South Asia. “Western countries which during the Cold War were suspicious of India’s friendship with the Soviet Union are now drawing closer to it. Even (the prime minister of) Pakistan’s close friend Turkey visited India and snubbed the regime in Pakistan. These actions flow from the isolationist policies followed by Pakistan which in the past remained a key western ally.”
She said this also have to do much with a changing world where markets are replacing missiles as the measure of a country’s strength.
“China and Iran, two other key Pakistani allies, are also drawing closer to India.” Benazir said unfortunately there is a perception that our foreign policy is based on blackmail. “We keep acting like naughty boys threatening to use bombs and missiles if the rest of the world does not kow-tow tous. The rest of the world has decided to move on and ignore us. This can change if fair elections are held which will bring the PPP to power. The PPP is a liberal party and its liberalism is supported by forces of liberalism everywhere.” She said it is important to inculcate the spirit of tolerance, to accept a political party if this is what the majority of people want. The defiance started in 1988 when certain elements decided to prevent the PPP from gaining power in Punjab and subsequently destabilised the government and rigged the elections, she said.
She said regrettably some self-proclaimed messiahs have declared that the PPP is corrupt even though no such allegation has stood the test of independent scrutiny. “These so called messiahs therefore want desired results which can only deepen the crisis in the country.” She said since the ouster of PPP government, Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has taken a turn for worse. “Three crucial changes took place in the Kashmir policy. First, the leadership of All Parties Hurriyat Conference was effectively replaced with Harkat ul Mujahideen and Lashkar e Taiba. “Second, the arena of conflict was expanded beyond the disputed area. Third, non-military targets, that is civilians, were also included as targets. This has led to a sea shift in the perceptions with regard to the Kashmir dispute.” She called for putting the All Parties Hurriyat Conference back in the centre of the policy. The PPP leader reiterated her call for opening borders with India while engaging it on the Kashmir issue. “We need to engage India in a dialogue wherein, whilst we disagree on Kashmir, we also move in uniting Kashmiris by having safe and open borders.
Once talks lead to opening of the borders where people can travel freely to see friends and family, to worship and to trade, it will lead to the opening of hearts and minds and the resolution.” Benazir also lashed out at the “demoralised and out-of-date” Foreign Office, saying there is quite bit of grouping and infighting in the FO. “There are many fine officers still there but the Foreign Office needs a revamp. The Foreign Office resents political appointees but needs to understand that foreign offices lacking the continuity of the British Foreign System do need fresh blood and fresh ideas through fresh political inductees. “However they also resent the generals being sent in as ambassadors and perhaps fewer generals ought to be sent as ambassadors. The problem is that the generals themselves retire in the prime of their life when they still have much to contribute. The defence ministry needs to take a fresh look at this problem to find a solution.