Will change of ISI chief improve Pakistan’s policy, image?

Will change of ISI chief improve Pakistan’s policy, image?
By Amir Mir, The News, October 4, 2008

LAHORE: The elevation of Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), which is often described as the nerve centre of the Army, as the new chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), has raised prospects of a shift in the direction of the ISI in the US-led war against terror and the Taliban-linked militancy in the tribal areas, bordering the war-torn Afghanistan.

The changes seem to be part of a much broader shake-up of senior assignments involving 14 new promotions and senior commands which came at a time when the the Army chief is consolidating his own position and Pakistan is recasting its strategy in the war against terror following the once most trusted American ally General Musharraf's exit from the political scene. The main theme of the new appointments, which have been made nine months after the new Army chief took over, seems an assertion of greater control by Gen Ashfaq Kayani. Military circles believe the choice of generals getting promotions were entirely his own. The reshuffle also establishes Kayani's coming of age, cleansing his force of Gen Musharraf's controversial legacy by sidelining those who were closely aligned with the former military ruler.

As a part of the Sept 29 changes in the Army, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha succeeded Lt-Gen Nadeem Taj, who was considered to be a close associate of former president Musharraf. Taj, is was also distantly related to Musharraf, could not serve as the ISI director-general for more than a year. He took over as the ISI chief on Oct 8, 2007, after his promotion to the rank of Lt-Gen by Musharraf.

Military circles say Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who has been directly in command of an ongoing military campaign against Taliban militants in his capacity as the DGMO, is well respected at the Pentagon. Known for his public statements in support of Kayani's moves to depoliticise the Army and to combat militants, Pasha is considered to be a staunch Kayani loyalist who has attended all six meetings between the Army chief and the US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. The last such meeting was held on Aug 26, 2008 on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.

Lt-Gen Pasha's appointment as the ISI chief comes almost two months after a July 26, 2008 Cabinet Division notification, announcing that the ISI directorate had been taken out of the prime minister's establishment and placed under the interior ministry. However, the government decision was rescinded the very next day.

Incidentally, Pasha has assumed the command of the ISI when relations between Islamabad and Washington are touching their lowest ebb since the 9/11 attacks. As the chief of the ISI, Pasha will be dealing with the American CIA whose chief recently stated that the threat of yet another 9/11-like terror attack on American soil is actually emanating from Pakistan and it has significantly been enhanced by the growing cooperation between Pakistani Taliban militants and elements of al-Qaeda. Military circles say Pasha's appointment means there would be hardly any change in the present Pakistani military strategy of dealing with the militants in the tribal areas.

Lt-Gen Pasha's elevation also indicates Gen Kayani's close alignment with the American strategy in the tribal areas, attempting to rope in the ISI to neutralise the anti-US forces among the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pasha, a Pashtun officer from the Frontier Force, was previously the Commandant of the prestigious Command and Staff College at Quetta, and Commander Pakistan Contingent (PAKCON) in Sierra Leone in 2002. Promoted from the rank of brigadier to that of maj-gen by Musharraf in January, 2003, Pasha is set to serve the armed forces for four more years as he is due to retire in Sept 2012. He has commanded an infantry brigade and an infantry division and has served as the Chief Instructor of the Command and Staff College.

As a brigadier, he had served as a contingent and sector commander with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone in 2001-2002. Interestingly, Musharraf had relieved Pasha as the DGMO in Oct, 2007 to pave the way for his appointment as Military Adviser, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in the United Nations headquarters, in place of General Per Arne Five of Norway. An announcement on his posting in the UN headquarters was also made by the office of the UN secretary-general. However, his posting did not materialise in view of the growing crisis in the trouble-stricken Swat Valley and the NWFP which were literally falling to the Taliban, prompting Musharraf to order an intense military operation against the militants led by Pasha, being the DGMO.

As a matter of fact, it was Pasha who got the TNSM (Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi) founder Maulana Sufi Mohammad released from prison after six long years in May 2008, as part of a peace deal between the military and the militants, to bring peace to the area. In January, 2008, Pasha had announced that his troops had defeated the TNSM and freed the Swat Valley from the control of the TNSM. His claim came to haunt him shortly thereafter when the militants in Swat led by Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, staged a comeback, launched a series of suicide bombings targeting the security forces, and eventually re-established their control over large parts of the trouble-ridden Swat Valley. The fighting there is still going on.

In addition to Lt-Gen Nadeem Taj's removal as the ISI chief, two major-generals, heading the internal and external wings of the ISI, have been denied promotion and superseded. Maj-Gen Nusrat Naeem, the head of the ISI's internal wing and Maj-Gen Asif Akhtar, the head of the ISI's external wing, have been superceded, but have been allowed to continue till their superannuation as major-generals.

Another important change within the ISI is Maj-Gen Zahirul Islam, who has been appointed as the director-general counter intelligence, the second most important post in the ISI. According to military circles, these changes show Gen Kayani and Lt-Gen Pasha would install their trusted generals in the critical operational jobs. As a result of the reshuffle, Gen Kayani will have in the key slots of the Chief of General Staff (CGS), Director-General of ISI, and Corps Commander, Rawalpindi, those people who owe their promotion as lieutenant-general to him and not to their former boss Gen Musharraf. These three coveted slots make up an informal troika within the Army without whose support no Army chief can stage a coup, as per the conventional wisdom. The khakis appointed to these slots as well as to the post of the DGMO are usually considered to be confirmed loyalists of the Army chief. Military circles say the Army reshuffle indicates that there is unlikely to be any change in the Kashmir policy of the Army.

Also See:
A Shake-Up at the Top of Pakistan's Spy Agency - TIME
Focusing the Spy Glass on Pakistan's ISI - Shuja Nawaz

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