The nomination of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha was announced late on Monday in an army statement. His appointment as Director General of Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) came at a time when US officials have repeatedly expressed their doubts about the loyalties of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in the so-called “war on terror”.
Pakistan's army chief Kayani has announced a reshuffle of the country's top brass
The appointment of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha was announced late on Monday in an army statement. His appointment as Director General of Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) came at a time when US officials have repeatedly expressed their doubts about the loyalties of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in the so-called “war on terror”.
The world’s eyes are constantly on Pakistan these days. Regular attacks in the north-western tribal regions and a recent deadly suicide bombing outside a major hotel in Islamabad have intensified criticism that the authorities are not doing enough to combat extremism.
Certain anonymous US officials have gone so far as to accuse the Inter-Services Intelligence of playing a double game in the so-called “war on terror”.
Although the Pakistani military said the appointment of a new intelligence chief and 14 other appointments were a matter of routine, there was speculation that pressure from the United States might have triggered the reshuffle of Pakistan’s top brass.
Last week, new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden during a visit to the United States. The New York Times reported that the president had said the ISI would be “handled” and that it was the government’s “problem”.
Blurred line between army and civilian government
The former head of military operations, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha replaces Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj as Director General of the ISI. Pasha is considered to be very close to army chief Kayani, who himself held the position until a year ago.
Although General Kayani has made clear in the past that the military will look after its own affairs while the civilian government runs the state, the dividing line is not so clear, say observers.
Opposition leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan accused the civilian government of using the army and being too close to the United States, thus neglecting other allies.
“The government does not do what it wants to do itself but instead asks the army chief to do it on its behalf,” he said. “Mr Zardari was supposed to go to China but instead he sent his army chief. What is this? All such matters should be decided by parliament. The current government’s policies are no different from those of former President Musharraf. Only they have been packaged under the label of the so-called democratic government.”
He added that it would have been a better message to the international community if President Zardari had gone to China himself. He also suggested that Pakistan should review its foreign policy.
Crumbling US-Pakistan relationship?
The relationship between Pakistan and the United States intensified when General Musharraf, then president, pledged his country’s support in the so-called war on terror after the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001.
The ISI originally helped capture or kill hundreds of senior al-Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil. But recently, especially after a bomb attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed almost 60 people in July, speculation that the ISI is playing a double game has grown.
Some experts say this lies in the ISI’s history: “I think the real problem as far as the Pakistani military and intelligence services are concerned is that they have basically had a policy, which in a way the Americans allowed them to have, to go after al-Qaeda and the Arab members of al-Qaeda but to continue supporting the Afghan Taliban. I think this policy has now really backfired,” explained Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid.
As suspicion of the ISI increased, with Western officials expressing concern that ISI agents had tipped off militants ahead of missile strikes, the US-led coalition stopped notifying the Pakistani secret services of such attacks, which it subsequently increased.
“Right to self-defence”
In September, US-led troops provoked outrage when they carried out a commando raid on a Pakistani village on the border with Afghanistan.
Entering the debate on whether US-led troops should strike militant targets in Pakistan if the ISI and other agencies did not, General David McKiernan, Commander of the NATO-led ISAF troops in Afghanistan said laconically: “Our mandate does end at the border but we do have the right of self-defence.”
It will take some time before the game of Pakistan’s new top spy is revealed. Until Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha shows his cards, the world will keep a close eye on him and the ISI -- which has long been the bane of neighbouring India and Afghanistan, and also civilian Pakistani politicians -- as well as its relationship with the United States.