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Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI]

The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] main job is to deal with external security threats, but experts said the ISI is also deeply involved in domestic politics. Constitutionally, the ISI is responsible for dealing with external security threats, but pro-democracy activists say that in practice the organization has been deeply involved in the country's domestic politics. The director general of the ISI - once called "the state within the state" by former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani - is considered the most powerful person in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation after the military chief.

"ISI's powers have increased manifold in the past decades. It has become so powerful that it will take a long time and enormous efforts by the civilian government to minimize it as per constitutional requirements. But the history tells us that the ISI has been stronger than the civilian government in Pakistan," according to Zaman Khan, a Lahore-based columnist and a senior member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. However, some analysts believe that PM Sharif can bring the ISI under the civilian control. "It can be done, but we must not forget that Sharif's political career was nurtured by the ISI," according to Saleem Asmi, former editor of Pakistan Dawn newspaper.

Islamabad-based civil society activist Tahira Abdullah said that it would not be easy to control the military's spy agency, but that civilian leaders should keep making efforts regardless. "The civilian leadership should try to take control of the security and foreign policy affairs. At least, on matters like anti-terrorism and relations with India and Afghanistan, the civilian and military leaders should work together," Abdullah said.

An analysis released in 2015 by the International Crisis Group (ICG) advised Prime Minister Sharif to take matters into his own hands and democratize the country's anti-terrorism strategy "in order to replace an overly militarized response with a revamped, intelligence-guided counterterrorism strategy, led by civilian law enforcement agencies, particularly the police."

Analysts say that despite the fact that Pakistan's civilian leadership has almost no control over the army and the ISI, it is still a good sign that PM Sharif was gradually asserting his authority. Nawaz Sharif did not succumb to the pressure from the military's supporters to extend the former army chief Raheel Sharif's tenure, and now he had appointed a new ISI chief as per constitutional requirements.

However, experts say the new army chief Bajwa and the incoming ISI head Mukhtar are likely to continue the same policies as their predecessors. They did not expect a policy change with regard to Afghanistan, India and China. Nonetheless, activists said it is a good omen for Pakistan that democracy is flourishing in the country.

Experts also said that the US administration would want to see a stronger civilian leadership in Pakistan which can take domestic and foreign policy matters into its hands and limit the role of military generals in politics. They say the regional and international situation would also favor Sharif if he chose to assert his authority. But the question remains: Will Sharif go for it?

The ISI played both sides in the war on terror and, as US troops draw out of Afghanistan, would be hugely influential in determining the region's future. The head of the ISI spy agency occupies one of the most important posts in Pakistan. It is at the intersection of the country's domestic politics, the war on militancy and Pakistan's foreign relations.




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