Every move you make…

They watch you at all hours. Do you know who they are? Saad Sarfraz Sheikh goes after Pakistan’s Intelligent Sophisticated Individuals

(Courtesy: New Yorker)
(Courtesy: New Yorker)

They say they are everywhere. Yes, everywhere. They could be hiding under your bed, or listening to you and your wife complain about the increasing price of pampers. They could be watching you flirt with your secretary at work. They could smell your stinking socks while you sleep at night to ascertain what you did in the day. They’re even inside your laptop, monitoring every webpage you visit.


No, they’re not microscopic insects. They aren’t robots or super heroes either. They are, rather, Intelligently Sophisticated Individuals.

For the sake of brevity, let us employ an acronym.

Your mother could be an ISI. Haven’t you noticed how she keeps an eye on you? How often she goes through your pockets and asks weird questions about what seem to be non-issues?

Perhaps the neighbour’s dog is an ISI? Haven’t you seen how he doesn’t leave your trail, even for a second?

It turns out they could also be one of the saints of Multan, those revered beings to whom you turn after being “cursed with 7 daughters.” Have you heard about this one saint in Multan who has a small shrine in the heart of the cantonment? Legend has it that many people from Southern Punjab would visit him and seek his help in matters that ranged from choosing lottery tickets to getting their children married. The fakir, nestled in a cozy corner at a road intersection, would “bless his followers” and dance in a patched robe. After serving humanity in this way for decades, his power came to an abrupt end and he was buried at the very spot where he used to sit. It was only later that our intelligence agencies came to know the truth: the fakir was a RAW agent who had spied on the military in Multan, and his family in India did not want a burial but an “antim-sanskaar” for their dearly departed.

This is just one of the many “intelligence failures” that have taken place in Pakistan’s history; and, as far as such failures go, it is a relatively harmless one. It’s a dinnertime joke compared to the big intelligence failure currently looking us in the face.


What happens when your own intelligence starts to play double games and pursue interests that are opposed to your own? If, instead of protecting the public by interpreting signals from foreign countries, a national intelligence agency starts to meddle in the internal political workings of the country, it no longer serves a useful role. Or, to put it another way, it stops being beneficial to the public and serves only itself.

Wait, am I pointing fingers? Sorry! I don’t want my fingers to be broken.

What do you do when the cops “go bad”? How do you react when governments are toppled, coups are carried out, the people’s representatives are assassinated and thousands go missing?

How do you feel when you find out that your so-called protectors, the people whose comfort and power is financed by your taxes, actually start to sleep with the enemy? (It’s come to the point where you can define ‘enemy’ however you like: our spooks are in bed with the Americans as well as the jihadis.)

More seriously, how do you as a citizen deal with what the intelligence agencies did in Bangladesh 40 years ago and are now doing in Balochistan?

All over the world the ISI has come to be associated with deception, fear and murderous consequences. It is ironic that an institution built to gather “strategic intelligence” has now turned into a media regulator that “keeps a check on journalists” and specializes in kidnapping, torturing and killing those who seek the truth. To all those who ask for evidence, I cite only the statements and interviews of countless retired spooks who have admitted to the agency’s role in rigging elections, uniting and dividing political parties and “cleansing” the media. Such widespread manipulation has made a mess of the political process in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, dim-wits like Imran Khan are speaking cryptically of a “pre-planned conspiracy that is weakening the army and ISI”.

Really? Did Syed Saleem Shehzad, and the Chechen women in Kharotabad, and that poor kid in Karachi, all kill themselves deliberately to malign the singularly patriotic Pak Fauj?

Saad Sarfraz Sheikh is a photojournalist and musician based in Lahore.

[Published in The Friday Times : http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20110708&page=13]