Originally published in The Pakistan Observer on 14 May 2014.
If permitted by Gen Zaheer; Pakistan’s top spy master ,all his boys deserve fantastic cuban cigars over a cup of coffee. People showing support to their militaries home and abroad is a common sight, however masses expressing solidarity for an intelligence agency is something unheard.
Keeping in view the current trends in Pakistan, has ISI been a political party it would have swept elections, had it been a media organization it would have got record ratings ,had it been a book it would have become a best seller and if there had be an annual Nobel prize for an organization’s popularity, ISI would have been victorious by leaps and bounds.
By default, intelligence agencies are bound to be notoriously famous or famously notorious depending upon which side of the line you stand. Thus hatred for ISI in India, RAW’s bashing in Pakistan, German’s apprehensions about NSA, American grudges against KGB, France’s interest in MI-6 , Moss ad’s suspicions about CIA and CIA’s draconian image due to drone strikes is something neither surprising nor secret.
Internationally, in the backdrop of NSA fame Edwared Sonwden, Julian Assenage, wiki leaks and increasing public concerns over privacy ,current environment is not very conducive nor supporting for the intelligence community. ISI changed the scenario dramatically.
Worldwide there is an intelligence community dilemma. In an era, dominated by showmanship where everyone strives day in and day out for acknowledgment and recognition, spy community choose to remain anonymous. Understandably, to act under cover is a professional requirement , however just the way they live in shadows ,intelligence people are expected to die silently. This is why at CIA’s headquarter in Virginia, a wall to honor some of agency’s best people do it without mentioning their names. Same recognition applies to the achievements and accomplishments of intelligence people. Thus when US president in 2003 boasted “Mission Accomplished” aboard a US naval ship ,he was all surrounded by combat soldiers, and intelligence people hardly got any mention. Its irony, that world over soldiers who serve their countries, proudly put their names on chest while the first thing that intelligence people are ripped off is their original name .
Coming back to the recent standoff ,which is now no more between a particular institute and a media organization. It is between masses and media and there are many lessons to infer.
Firstly, despite of enormous popularity of media, penetration among masses and wide acceptability, people in Pakistan are very sensitive about few state institutions , if not all. The negative perception about media has been cemented by the dubious fundings, foreign influence and various scandals.
Secondly, Social media in Pakistan needs to be taken very seriously. With a large youth bulge, incoming 3G and 4G technology and increasing use of smart phones , influence of social media is bound to increase. In current case a huge contribution was made by Pakistan’s hyper active social media for punishing a particular organization for irresponsible journalism. What more punishment a media organization could get with sudden drop age in viewership, a popular columnist quitting his job and people from as far as Germany, Canada, Finland and Australia pouring in to sign an online petition for banning the channel. A professional and powerful electronic media empire shook to its foundation by handful ,self propelled social media activists.
Thirdly, if accepted as a case of editorial or journalistic misjudgment ,its even more intriguing that how a media group with an experience of about a quarter century could do that. Hawkishly reporting about corrupt factory owners and covering incidents is one thing blaming a state bluntly a state institution is another. The freedom of speech is a value that needs to be respected but no state could allow this freedom to be misused against itself. Its a task left to the enemies of the state.
For the world at large, this episode is a clear message that ISI is a popular agency within its own country. This is a feat hardly any other intelligence agency could claim. So once it is claimed or ‘blamed ‘ that ISI is one of the best Agency in the world ,a major reason is that it is highly popular among its own people.
On a lighter note, Gen Zaheer’s counter parts in CIA,MOSSAD or RAW could eagerly call him to know the recipe of winning hearts and minds and take tips for becoming a “People’s Agency” while remaining a “State Agency”.
In the mean time ,Chief of Pakistan’s Spy staff and his team could finish their cigars and get back to work with this declassified piece of information that their nation strongly backs them.
What a confidence for an intelligence agency to work !