[pullquote]Details of a rare visit to its headquarters by Azaz Syed[/pullquote]
ISLAMABAD: The Intelligence Bureau (IB), Pakistan’s premier civilian intelligence outfit’s headquarter is not known as IB headquarters in Islamabad’s Secretariat; rather it is known as, “K” Block, located almost at the deep end of the secretariat towards the mighty Margalla Hills of the federal capital, Islamabad.
Whenever you ask anybody about the location of “K” Block in Islamabad, he would briefly look at you and would guide you towards the location.
Being a journalist curious to meeting interesting personalities and visiting places where only a few have access, you would obviously land here. I was there to follow the whispers about the agency’s role in recent make and break in Balochistan Assembly and during Senate elections.
During my visit to the agency headquarters, one of the top officers of the agency was my host who wants to be anonymous. When you enter the building after going through the required security check ups, you observe a big green gate where security personals give you a final go ahead to enter the building. “K” Block in green color is also visibly inscribed at the wall on the entrance gate. The moment you enter, you see a wide cemented road going straight and also taking a left turn, on the right there is a parking area for about 15 to 20 vehicles.
The security personnel guides you to the parking and signals you to the main building where office of the, IB chief is located. It’s right on the left from the entrance gate. If you have a chauffeur he can drop you at the main gate and if you don’t have like myself then you have to walk almost 80,90 steps for entering the building after parking your car in the specified area.
The squared shaped IB, headquarters is located at a hilly point at about 100 canals of land. Its present building was built in late 1960s and the chiefs of this agency started sitting in the present building since 1973.
The front side of the building has only one entrance, apparently. The moment you get closer you find two flags mounted on your left side in a small green belt which is almost one an half feet higher than ground. One is of Pakistan’s national flag and the other is IB’s organizational flag and on their feet 1947 is visibly inscribed on a cemented block.
A wooden rack with multiple shelves is the most prominent thing you observe when you step in the main building after passing a walk through gate. The shelves are filled with different souvenirs of foreign agencies, given to IB, giving reflection of its coordination with other international spy agencies. In this area you feel that silence is dominating the environment and a dim light increases the sense of suspense to the visitor.
The young receptionist with silver suit and a blue tie passes a smile and gives you the security badge, with a request of submitting mobile phones at that point. Then he accompanies you to upstairs.
The walls of building corridors from downstairs to upstairs are renovated with beautiful paintings fixed in wonderful wooden frames. While walking through the office of the spy agency one feels that walls around you are privy to many secrets. The secrets range from history to date and the officers and the employees working in this building are the custodians of these secrets.
After about 30 steps you reach the first floor which is probably the executive floor, where chief of the agency sits. The first chief of the agency G. Ahmed was appointed 13 days (on August 1 1947) before the partition reveals that agency is 13 days older than the country herself. To date 39 chiefs headed the agency, though it was headless at times.
Apparently the first 13 chiefs of the agency were civil bureaucrats; it was only Gen Zia which appointed first military officer Major General Agha Nek Muhammad as its chief on April 16th 1985 who continued until 30th July 1986 when a police officer Aslam Hayat replaced him. Out of the 38 chiefs of the agency since 1947, nine were military officers.
Traditionally IB and its chief are known as the eyes and ears of the prime minister who appoints the agency head and most of the time depends on them more than any other intelligence outfit.
Currently Aftab Sultan, a retired officer of the police service, is heading the agency since June 7, 2013. He was appointed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who picked him up probably because of his strong-headed nature.
Aftab Sultan was the one, who being a senior police officer deployed in Sargodha during the Musharraf regime, had refused to choreograph referendum in favour of the dictator. Aftab was made OSD (officer on special duty) as punishment.
It is not the first time he is serving on the position rather he had also remained the choice of former Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani between October 2011 to July 2012 for the same slot. Aftab Sultan is the only officer who has served two different governments of PPP and PML.N under almost four different Prime Ministers ranging from Yousaf Raza Gillani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Nawaz Sharif and now PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Tenure of Aftab Sultan is ending on 2nd April and his farewell visits have started formally. He is the 39th chief of the agency. IB remained central arm of the civilian Prime Minister since 2014 protest sit in at Islamabad to Panama and Dawn leaks however its officers believe that their real success is in the field of countering terrorism during last five years.
“We can say that IB has become the No.1 counter terrorism agency,” says a key officer of the agency further adding that, “We have increased the capacity of agency in countering terrorism while joining hands with the provincial police and Counter Terrorism Departments (CTD),” , For backing up his point of view he shared data saying that during 2013 to the end of 2017 IB has carried out 3635 intelligence based operations across the country and traced 7062 high profile and terrorism cases in the country.
The officer shared that IB has resolved 70 cases of suicide terrorism, 165 bomb blasts and 867 target cases of target killings were resolved besides 257 cases of the attacks on law enforcement agencies. According to the data shared with this correspondent IB arrested 2779 terrorists and 1205 proclaimed offenders and during these entire process 29 officers of the spy agency embraced martyrdom.
“I can tell you proudly that we are far ahead of any other intelligence outfit with regard to countering terrorism despite our fewer resources in comparison with some sister agencies. We are ready to present our work before parliament which may draw a comparison,” the officer said.
What about the political make-and-break in Balochistan and the Senate of Pakistan? I asked the officer. “We had already informed the elected government about the situation emerging in Balochistan including the fact that some key officials were directly involved in making and breaking the government in the province and the same was the situation about the recent Senate elections, we informed the government what we knew, and “we knew”,” the officer emphasized.
When I asked “if you were aware of the protest sit in at Faizabad by clerics led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi”, the official said: “here too we had our homework done and forewarned the government about what was coming, and later kept informing what was happening.”
Once a key government functionary told this correspondent that during the protest sit in (dharna) of 2014, a very important, top official had held a meeting with Aftab Sultan asking him to come to his side which he had refused, I narrated the incident to the official for confirmation. “Yes it’s true,” was a short answer with no details.
“We are here to help the constitutionally elected government; it’s not our job to take part in any kind of conspiracies against the government. We are also bound to tell what is right and what is wrong, we are proudly doing it,” the officer added.
When I said: “In a country where civil military imbalance often create situations, only a few understand the importance of the constitution and the sanctity of the elected prime minister,” I was told: “This office (IB HQs) has always stood by the supremacy of parliament and the constitution, and that is why its chief always attended each meeting of the parliament or any of its committee which called him. The IB chief remained always available before the courts as this agency respects the courts,” the officer said.
I was told that since the current chief of the agency is retiring on April 2 following which one of the two police officers, Khaliq Dad Luck and Dr. Suleman, is likely to become the next chief. However Dr. Suleman, currently heading KPK chapter of the agency, has a fair chance to be elevated.