Bill seeking ISI accountability at Pak Senate

Islamabad: A bill has been submitted in the Senate as part of efforts by Pakistan`s presidency to tame the spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence through parliamentary oversight and to make it answerable to parliament and the government. The 19-page draft bill was submitted in the Senate or upper house of parliament by Farhatullah Babar, the spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari, a few days ago and may be taken up during a session beginning today.

Sources in the ruling Pakistan People`s Party told the Dawn newspaper that the important legislation had been discussed with partners in the federal coalition. The proposed Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (Functions, Powers and Regulation) Act of 2012 suggests that the powerful spy agency should be answerable to parliament and the Prime Minister, the daily reported. It recommends internal accountability within the agency and a better discipline system to end enforced disappearances and victimisation of political parties.

This is the first time that a serious effort is being made to streamline the affairs of the ISI, which faced severe criticism in the wake of the unilateral US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory last year. The legal fraternity praised the effort to make the ISI subservient to parliament and to address the issue of "missing persons" or those detained without charge by security and intelligence agencies.

"If this serious effort has been made by a parliamentarian, it should be backed by all political parties, including opposition parties like the PML-N," said Tariq Mehmood, a retired Supreme court judge. Giving the background of the proposed legislation, the bill states: "The absence of appropriate legislation regulating the functioning, duties, powers and responsibilities of the agency is not consistent with the principles of natural justice and accountability of authority and power, and has given rise to resentment against the premier national agency."

It states the ISI`s director general should be a serving or retired civil servant or an armed forces official who is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The ISI chief should hold office for four years. "The agency shall be directly under the Prime Minister and not under any ministry," it states.

The bill envisages an Intelligence and Security Committee comprising nine members drawn from both houses of parliament, none of whom shall be a minister or minister of state, to examine matters related to the expenditure, administration and policy of the ISI. The committee will not be allowed to go into the intelligence sources of the ISI. The Prime Minister shall lay before parliament a copy of the annual report of the committee together with a statement on whether any matter has been excluded from it and why.

In the case of missing persons, the draft bill states that the government had informed the Supreme Court on April 27, 2007 that operations of intelligence agencies were beyond the control of the federal administration. It suggests that the ISI director general may issue written orders for taking into preventive custody any person who is acting or has acted in furtherance of a terrorist act or in a manner prejudicial to the security of Pakistan. The ISI chief should fix the period of custody, not exceeding 30 days, in the order of preventive detention and this can be extended up to 90 days on special grounds.

If a person is required for over 90 days, the ISI chief shall place the matter before a review board. Under the proposed act, any employee of the ISI found in any way working for the enemy, any terrorist or terrorist organisation, or for any criminal or organised criminal group, shall, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to 25 years. The employees of the ISI shall not be regarded as civil servants and a separate mode of taking disciplinary action against them for misconduct has been prescribed in the draft.

The bill recommends the appointment of an ombudsman by the President to independently and impartially address service complaints of employees of the ISI and any complaints of misuse of authority. However, leaders of the PML-Q, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement said they had not studied the draft and could not comment on it. "It is a private member`s bill submitted by a parliamentarian in his individual capacity and such bills are not shared with the coalition partners before they are tabled in the house," PML-Q spokesman Kamil Ali Agha said.