Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition partners – Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) on Tuesday voiced concern over the increasing role of country’s premier spy agency ISI on civilian affairs.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif granted the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) status of a Special Vetting Agency (SVA), thus empowering it to conduct verification and screening of all government officers before their induction, appointments and postings, as well as promotions.

Some members belonging to allied parties even criticised the prime minister for not taking the coalition partners and parliament into confidence, vowing to take the matter to the court, reported The Express Tribune.

They quipped that the premier should also consider including politicians in the notification as “most of the traitors” were there.

“This has been done behind the back of coalition partners and parliament,” Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) General-Secretary Farhatullah Babar said, asking why the decision was taken as it is not a single-party government.

In a tweet, Babar said that the decision must be unacceptable to many coalition partners, and they must protest to reverse it, adding that unilateral alteration in civil service rules must be challenged, reported The Express Tribune.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) former information minister Pervaiz Rashid also questioned the move in a tweet, saying that if the task of investigating civilian officers was included in ISI’s responsibilities, then the premier spy agency should also be placed under civilian control and be accountable to the parliament.

PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar chided the premier on tasking the intelligence agency to vet government officers by “requesting” that PM Shehbaz include all public office holders in the notification at once. “Why discriminate against politicians?” Khokhar asked, adding that “after all, traitors are more common in our ranks”.

Similarly, PPP’s former chairman Senator Mian Raza Rabbani also said that the notification issued by the federal government, declaring the ISI as the SVA, was “surprising”, reported The Express Tribune.

“The verification and screening of all civil servants before their induction, appointments, postings and promotions by the SVA amount to ceding civilian space,” Rabbani said.

Besides, he added, the civil servants were already working under the pressure of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law.

An official of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said that the decision was surprising for the party too as no discussion had taken place in the party meetings on the issue.

With the special status and powers, some bureaucrats said, the spy agency would keep an eye on the moral and financial affairs of the government officers and would submit details to the promotion boards, especially the high-powered board and Central Selection Board (CSB).

The political set-up in Pakistan has been military-driven for ages and it is also perceived in Pakistan that politicians need the military’s backing to come to power, however, after the newest reform, many now fear that bureaucrats could also need the same support for their appointment and postings.

The move has placed the verification and screening of government officials in charge of postings, appointments, and promotions in ISI hands, leading to concerns of a shrunken civilian space.

The recent reform issued by PM Shehbaz Sharif has raised fears about the military increasing its control over the country’s public life.

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