A view from outside Pakistan's Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: AFP / Aamir Queshi
A view from outside Pakistan's Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: AFP / Aamir Queshi

Pakistan has long been beset by tensions between its civil and military authorities. Now even its spy agencies seem to be at loggerheads, with accusations of political maneuvering and the overstepping of constitutional bounds being leveled at the government’s Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The civilian watchdog – under instruction from a ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) administration whose grip on power looks ever-more shaky – has been carrying out round-the-clock surveillance of the judiciary, opposition parties and military intelligence for some time.

It is known that officials from the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had their phone calls listened to at the height of civil-military tensions in 2014, following an attempt on the life of the Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir, who said he suspected ISI involvement. The order to bug their phones allegedly came from the now-deposed Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, himself.

The bubbling rivalry between the IB and ISI boiled over in June this year when a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing alleged money laundering by the Sharif family made a written complaint to the Supreme Court that the IB was wiretapping JIT members, including ISI and Military Intelligence (MI) personnel. Other JIT members from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Security & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) were also alleged to have had their phones bugged.

The JIT further reported that the IB was hampering its inquiries, adding that military-led intelligence agencies were not on “good terms” with the IB. It said the IB had collected intelligence on members of the JIT from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and presented it to Nawaz to use against them. The Supreme Court inquired how the IB came to be working for a “private person” instead of the state, adding that – as it owed its loyalty to the latter – it seemed, prima facie, to have been misused.

Last week, the spy agencies’ hostilities again echoed in court when an IB officer moved a petition at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to have his seniors’ alleged protection of different national and transnational terrorist organizations probed by the ISI.

In his petition, the IB’s Assistant Sub-Inspector, Malik Mukhtar Ahmed Shahzad, claimed to have filed “reports against various terrorist groups having roots in Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and India and providing evidence but no action was taken by the IB in this respect.”

The court, however, remarked that the ISI could not be authorized to carry out an investigation due to the ongoing “tug of war” between it and the IB. It fixed October 9 as the date for the next hearing.

A call-to-attention notice was moved in Pakistan’s Senate by Farhatullah Babar of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party on Saturday over a recent report on intelligence agencies “sheltering” terrorist elements. Citing Maulana Masood Azhar, Babar said the head of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) was being shielded against UN sanctions for unknown reasons. He also hinted that Mullah Mansoor Akhtar, a Taliban leader who was killed in a drone strike last year, had enjoyed Pakistani intelligence protection.

Reports indicate that IB chief Aftab Sultan visited Nawaz in London last month, on official expenses, to brief him on the latest political developments and to take further instruction from him. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) demanded Sultan’s resignation. “IB head must resign immediately. What was he doing visiting a disqualified PM in London over 4 days at taxpayer expense?,” tweeted the party’s leader, Imran Khan.

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