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Pakistan puts spy agency under civilian control

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani put the military’s main spy agency under the control of the Interior Ministry on Saturday, a move seen as asserting civilian authority over the intelligence network.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani addresses the National Assembly in Islamabad in this March 29, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer

The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is known to have wielded great influence on foreign and security policies, especially towards India and Afghanistan.

Critics say it played a major role in the creation of the Islamist Taliban movement which took control of Afghanistan in the 1990s and harboured al Qaeda until it was forced from power by U.S.-led forces in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Last month, Pakistan denied accusations by Afghan authorities that the ISI was behind an attempt by Taliban militants to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai in April.

“The Prime Minister (has) approved the placement of Intelligence Bureau and Inter Services Intelligence under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division with immediate effect,” the Pakistani government said in a statement on Saturday.

The Intelligence Bureau is Pakistan’s main civilian security agency.

Security analysts said the decision was the first move by the civilian government formed after February elections, led by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to assert its authority over Pakistan’s intelligence network.


“Undoubtedly, it’s a good decision. It will ensure better coordination between the intelligence agencies,” former general turned analyst Talat Masood said.

“It’s an effort to assert civilian oversight on the affairs of the intelligence agencies.”

The government announcement came hours after Gilani embarked on his first official visit to the United States.

Pakistan dropped support for the Taliban and joined the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks organised by Osama bin Laden, a guest of the Taliban.

But it has been unable to completely dispel suspicion that for various national security reasons, some elements of its security forces are still helping the Taliban.

Military issues are always closely watched in Pakistan, which has been ruled by generals for more than half of its 60 years of independence.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power as a general in 1999, stepped down as army chief in November to become a civilian leader.

General Ashfaq Kayani, who succeeded Musharraf as army chief, has taken several steps to take the army out of politics, including ordering all army officers out of civilian posts and barring them from meeting politicians.