Shehbaz names ISI as SVA for screening all public office holders

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has notified the country’s premium intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as a Special Vetting Agency (SVA) for verification and screening of all public office holders.

“The prime minister is pleased to notify Directorate General Inter-Services Intelligence as Special Vetting Agency (SVA) for verification and screening of all Public Office Holders (officers category) for induction, important posting/appointments and promotions,” said the official notification issued by the Establishment Division following the premier’s approval on Friday.

ISI Chief Lt. General Nadeem Anjum

Earlier, Intelligence Bureau was performing as Special Vetting Agency (SVA) for induction, important posting/appointments and promotions of civil servants.

The prime minister officially tasked the country’s premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with the screening of civil servants before their induction, appointments and postings, as well as promotions.

In doing so, the government has given legal cover to a practice that had already been in place, but had not been formalised as part of protocol.

According to the Estab­lishment Division notification: “In exercise of powers conferred by sub-section 1 of section 25 of the Civil Servants Act 1973 […] read with notification No. SRO 120 (1)/1998 […] the Prime Minister is pleased to notify Directorate General Inter-Services Intel­ligence (ISI)

as [the] Special Vetting Agency (SVA) for verification and screening of all Public Office Holders (Officers Category) …”.

The quoted laws — i.e. sub-section 1 of section 25 of the Civil Servants Act as well as SRO 120 — empower the prime minister to amend or make rules for the civil bureaucracy. The direction to notify the ISI as SVA had been issued from the office of the Prime Minister on May 06, 2022.

ISI Chief Lt. General Nadeem Anjum

A senior official from the Establishment Division told Dawn on the condition of anonymity that the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) both send their reports about civil servants before the latter are posted on important assignments.

Reports are especially sent to the Central Selection Board (CSB) at the time of promotion of bureaucrats. The practice has continued even though superior courts had, in a few cases in the past, discarded such intelligence reports while noting that there was no legal provision in the Civil Servants Act that mandated agency screening of civil servants.

According to the official, notwithstanding the notification, the IB will continue to send its reports as per routine. The official said that since the government has now given legal effect to reports issued by the ISI, these could henceforth be used in courts as a valid legal document.

However, a former Estab­lish­ment Division secretary disagreed. He noted that though the prime minister has the power to amend or make rules for the bureaucracy, it would have been better if the Establishment Division would have issued a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) to amend the Appointments, Promotions and Transfer (APT) Rules governing the civil bureaucracy if it wanted to give the ISI formal charge of the vetting process.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif

“Unless the rules are amended, a mere notification will not legitimise the agency’s report and it cannot be used as a valid document during judicial scrutiny,” he said.

The official said they did not believe that vetting by the ISI is required in the initial appointment of civil servants through the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). He added that the agency may instead be asked to screen those officers inducted from the armed forces into the civil bureaucracy.

It is worth noting that clearance from intelligence agencies is not only an integral part of the promotion process for civil servants, it also plays a key role in the appointment of judges to the superior judiciary. The Judicial Commission of Pakistan, headed by the chief justice, considers intelligence reports at the time of the confirmation and elevation of a Supreme Court judge.

Copy of notification related to ISI’s new task

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb did not speak on the development, while an Establishment Division spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Appointment of Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday, October 26 last year notified Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as the new head of the ISI spy agency, ending weeks of wrangling between the government and the army over the appointment of a general to the key position.
Gen Anjum’s appointment was first announced by the army’s media wing on October 6, but the PM House did not release an official notification about the posting until Tuesday.
According to an Arab News report, the delay in the announcement from the government side led to widespread speculation about an alleged rift between PM Khan and army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa over the appointment.
Announcing that Gen Anjum would assume his duties as ISI chief from November 20, the prime minister’s office said:
“The incumbent Director General ISI [Lt gen Faiz Hameed] shall continue to hold charge as the Director General Inter Services Intelligence till 19th November, 2021.”
In a series of tweets, the Prime Minister Office said the army chief had called on Khan on Tuesday as “part of the ongoing consultation process between the Prime Minister and Chief of Army Staff about the timing of change of command in ISI and selection of the new DG ISI.”
“During this process a list of officers was received from ministry of Defense. Prime Minister interviewed all the nominees. A final round of consultation was held between the Prime Minister and Chief of Army Staff today,” the PMO said, adding that Gen Anjum was chosen as DG ISI after the “detailed consultative process.”
The army is arguably the most influential institution in Pakistan, with the military having ruled the country for about half of its 74-year history since independence from Britain and enjoying extensive powers even under civilian administrations. By turn, the head of the ISI occupies one of the most important posts in Pakistan. He is customarily appointed by the prime minister on the advice of the army chief.
While announcing the new DG ISI earlier in October, the army also transferred Gen Hameed, as Corps Commander Peshawar.
The ISI is widely believed to have a hidden role in making many of the nuclear-armed nation’s policies, including on Afghanistan and India. The threat to Pakistan from nuclear-armed neighboring India has been a main preoccupation of the ISI through the decades, the Arab News reported.