Former Senate chairman Senator Raza Rabbani on Saturday said the notification allowing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to screen civil servants was “surprising” and added that the move amounted to “ceding civilian space”. The reaction came a day after the government provided a legal cover to country’s premier spy agency to screen civil servants before their induction, appointments and postings, as well as promotions. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator, in a statement, said the additional task of screening civil servants would “overburden” the ISI, keeping in view of the situation on the eastern and western borders, Afghanistan, Kashmir, internal terrorism and related issues. The former senate chairman said the notification indicated a lack of confidence in the civilian apparatus of the state and “also blurs the distinction between the civil and military bureaucracy”. The Constitution as well as the Civil Servants Act, 1973, were comprehensive laws and did not require screening of civil servants, he noted. “The courts have in some judgements disregarded intelligence reports in such matters. Civil servants are already working under the pressure of the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) law,” Rabbani noted. Another PPP senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar also criticised the government move. “The prime minister is requested to include all the ‘Public Office Holders’ in the proposed notification at once. Why discriminate against politicians? After all, traitors are more common in our ranks!,” he sarcastically remarked in a tweet. Reports said that the decision was taken in a recent federal cabinet meeting but was kept hidden, adding that the ISI had already started working and sought data of government officers and their families from the departments concerned. With the special status and powers, they 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). Previously, they maintained, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was performing the vetting process and it had now been replaced by the ISI. Earlier, they said, the ISI was tasked with vetting the cases of officials before they were posted abroad, adding that they would now “have more influence over bureaucracy” as every appointment, posting and promotion would go through them. Some government officers said that the government’s move surprised many as several parties in the coalition government used to oppose the interference of intelligence agencies in government’s affairs before coming to power. However after coming to power, they said, they had done exactly the opposite and, in fact, helped enhancing the spy agency’s control over bureaucracy and government’s affairs. Some other bureaucrats, however, took the decision lightly as they believe the ISI would do what the IB was previously doing and there won’t be much difference. They said that the government officers had already served while being constantly monitored by NAB, adding that the pressure would be there but this would also become a routine thing after some time. An Establishment Division notification issued early last month, and which was reported widely on Friday, stated: “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 6.