ISLAMABAD: The government has appointed Lt Gen Zahir ul Islam as the next head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s premier intelligence agency, ending speculations about giving another extension to Lt Gen Shuja Pasha.
“Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has appointed Lt General Zahir ul Islam as new Director General Inter Services Intelligence (ISI),” a brief statement issued on Friday by the prime minister’s office said without giving further details.
His appointment was made on the recommendation of Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Gen Islam, who is currently the Commander of V Corps, Karachi, will take charge of his new assignment on March 18 when Gen Pasha will retire after heading the ISI for over three years.
Gen Pasha’s strong loyalty to the army chief earlier won him two one-year extensions in 2010 and 2011.
The position of the Commander of Karachi V Corps will be filled by Lt Gen Ejaz Chaudhry, currently the Director General of Rangers, Sindh.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that Maj Gen Rizwan Akhter, the Commander of South Waziristan, is likely to move to Karachi to take over Gen Chaudhry’s position at the Sindh Rangers.
The appointment of Gen Islam, who previously headed the ISI’s internal wing under Gen Pasha for almost two years, signals continuity at the ISI as Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts are picking momentum and coalition forces are scheduled to complete their withdrawal by 2014.
The change of guard at the ISI takes place almost at the same time as the parliamentary review of ties with the US in the aftermath of last year’s Salala attack, is tentatively planned to be completed marking the start of a new phase of ties with Washington.
Technically, ISI has little to do with conduct of relations with the US, but because of the ongoing intelligence cooperation between Pakistan and the US, both CIA and ISI play a determining role in the bilateral relationship.
Gen Pasha had taken command of the ISI on a high note and was seen by the US as someone who had strong anti-Taliban views and could reorient the spy agency accused of maintaining close contacts with Taliban. But, as the CIA-ISI cooperation ran into problems, the Americans appeared to be less enthusiastic about him.
Gen Pasha came under intense criticism at home after Osama bin Laden’s denouement last year for his agency’s failure to detect Al Qaeda chief living close to the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul and more significantly for not being able to know that the Americans planned to carry out an operation deep inside Pakistan to take out the fugitive terror outfit leader.
Addressing an in-camera session of parliament, Gen Pasha had then offered to step down.
The outgoing ISI chief’s role in the memo-gate made him more controversial.
Following Mansoor Ijaz’s disclosure in an article in the Financial Times, Gen Pasha travelled to London to see him (Mansoor Ijaz) without the approval of the prime minister, who is technically his boss.
Later, Gen Pasha pressed for probe into the memogate by a Supreme Court appointed commission against wishes of the government which wanted the investigation to be carried out by the bi-partisan parliamentary committee of national security.
Mr Ijaz, who is now a star witness in the memogate, had also alleged that Gen Pasha had visited Arab countries to seek support for a coup in the aftermath of the US raid on the OBL residence in Abbotabad.
Another extension for Gen Pasha was opposed by the main opposition PML-N.
The new ISI chief, who has a little over two years in active military service (till Oct 2014) is said to be a typical infantry soldier.
He is from the Punjab regiment and has held several high-profile positions. He was the Chief of Staff at the Army Strategic Forces Command from 2004-2006.
For the next two years (2006-2008) he commanded the 12th Infantry Division based in Murree. Moving to ISI in 2008 he was assigned the internal wing, where he was responsible for internal security, law and order, coordination with law-enforcement agencies and supporting counter-terrorism operations. As the Commander of V Corps he oversaw an operation launched in Karachi after last year’s ethnic violence.