By: Mariana Baabar
ISLAMABAD: The Military Intelligence (MI) has initiated a country wide exercise, where they are knocking at the doors of journalists and columnists seeking help in providing them details about themselves in a two-page form in Urdu, for what they say is a verification process. The News saw the names of nearly a hundred well known media personalities, including women journalists who live on their own and even included one columnist who is a sitting member of Parliament.
Selected journalists and columnists stationed in Rawalpindi come under 10 Corps, say MI officials and a two-member team is assigned to gather personal details from these journalists, including four journalists presently working with The News.
This correspondent was approached by two polite officials on Tuesday, who identified themselves from the MI and said that they had visited several times before, but were told that the correspondent was away. They also had a wrong house address, which had complicated matters as they were turned away each time they visited the place. The address was corrected by this correspondent when they failed to see it written clearly on the gate. They were even having difficulty in locating telephone numbers and house address of one journalist they had to investigate and wondered if I could help.
The MI, according to Wikipedia, is “tasked with operations, identifying and eliminating sleeper cells, foreign agents and other anti-Pakistani elements within Pakistan”, so it is mind-boggling which category the media comes under. The MI is currently headed by a two-star general, Major-General Naushad Ahmed Kayani, nominated by the COAS himself.
After reading dozens of questions which had to be answered, this correspondent wrote at the end of the questionnaire, in space provided for remarks, “ As a working journalist, the Constitution and the laws of the land do not oblige me to provide the Military Intelligence with such personal and intimate information”.
Though the questionnaire was presented under the garb of ensuring ‘security clearance’ for events hosted by the Pakistan military, it was clear that it was much, much more than that.
“I do not think the DG MI has even read this questionnaire, which is certainly not a very professional one. But if I were in his place I would certainly take responsibility for this ridiculous procedure. I am certainly not very happy and there are much better ways to acquire information, as I can understand the security concerns that have to be taken care of but certainly not from people like you,” General Asad Durrani, former DG MI and ISI told The News.
It is indeed shocking at the details that the MI is interested in. Apart from the journalist’s name, father’s name, CNIC number and other details easily available from Nadra, it was also obligatory to specify one’s religion and whether one was a Sunni or Shia. If you wished to put Islam in the desired column it was not enough. Details were needed whether one had any strong affiliation with any religious group and if one had been involved in any illegal activity.
When The News contacted columnist Ayaz Amir whose name was also included in the list and asked whether his privilege as a parliamentarian would be breached if they approached him with this questionnaire, he replied, “It is my privilege as a journalist which will be breached. If the MI still does not have details of the Diplomatic Correspondent of The News who has been in the profession for 32 years, it simply exposes their inefficiency. And anyway it is none of their business to be asking such personal information”.
The questionnaire, amongst other things, wanted details of spouse, children and their contacts and activities. Contacts and details of brothers but sisters were not needed. The MI also wants to know which foreigners were the journalists meeting and what kind of information exchanged.
Details of cars owned and their details, bank account numbers and their details, tax return number, passport details, the list is endless. If it had been in English maybe more questions could have been easily read. But the ones the official started reading angered me enough, to request him to stop as the questions were becoming more and more ridiculous.
Amount of funding and time spent by the MI to complete this nationwide exercise is again a waste of taxpayers’ money.
When DG ISPR was contacted as they respond to matters pertaining to MI and ISI, Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, speaking to The News from Quetta said, “I will certainly look into this matter as these kinds of questions and seeking such information from working journalists is unnecessary”.
According to Wikipedia, the MI directorate is composed of Air Intelligence (AI) of Air Force, Naval Intelligence (Navy), Army Intelligence (Pakistan Army), and the Directorate for Marine Intelligence of the Marines. However, the MI is part of the Army and reports directly to the chief of army staff. And, the Army has appointed its officers to lead the agency. Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (MI) is one of the three main intelligence services in Pakistan.