This combo photo shows new ISI chief Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum (L) and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed. — Photo courtesy ISPR/File

What is the process of appointing Pakistan's spymaster?

Although no concrete procedure exists for such appointments, PMO says "detailed consultative process" adopted in this case.
Published October 26, 2021

Any shuffle in the Pakistan Army's top brass is usually the subject of intense discussion and speculation in political circles.

However, the appointment of Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as the new director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in early October had garnered a different sort of attention and raised questions about relations between the civil and military leadership.

The move came at a critical time for Pakistan as the country dealt with the Taliban's takeover of neighbouring Afghanistan and the precarious situation in the region.

Read: Stand-off on ISI chief's appointment has exposed growing gap between civil-military leadership

Despite the passage of several days, the government did not issue an official notification for the ISI chief's appointment.

During this time, Prime Minister Imran Khan had told the federal cabinet that he wanted outgoing spymaster Lt Gen Faiz Hameed to continue for some time due to the critical situation in Afghanistan.

The whole situation raised several questions: who has the final say when it comes to appointing the DG ISI? Who does the ISI report to? Can the ISI chief be a civilian?

What is the process of appointing the ISI chief?

Analysts whom reached out to were all clear about one thing — there does not seem to be a concrete procedure for appointing the ISI chief, at least none in the public domain.

Dawn's Resident Editor in Islamabad, Fahd Husain, said the closest we have come to knowledge of a proper procedure is PTI chief whip Amir Dogar's statement.

Speaking to Dawn, Dogar had explained that a summary had to be sent to the prime minister with three names out of which he selected one probable whom he deemed fit for the office.

"There has been a conventional sort of understanding that because the ISI reports to the prime minister and was created by an executive order, that the premier has the authority to appoint the chief," Husain said.

Senior Dawn correspondent Syed Baqir Sajjad also added that there is no set procedure.

"The convention is that the chief of army staff (COAS) holds consultations with the prime minister regarding potential candidates for the post. He also suggests who is best suited for the job.

"Once there is a consensus between the two, the defence ministry sends a summary to the premier for the appointment of that person as the director general of the ISI," he said.

Author and political analyst Zahid Hussain told that while the power to transfer or post an official in the ISI lay with the army chief, the general practice has been that the intelligence chief is appointed by the prime minister because the institution reports to the PM.

Elaborating, Hussain said that while the PM decided who was to head the intelligence chief, it was the army chief's authority when to transfer and post an official.

"The decision to transfer Faiz was according to [precedent] but the prime minister's insistence on keeping Faiz as chief was not right."

Can the DG ISI be a civilian?

According to the analysts, there is no restriction on a civilian being appointed to head the intelligence agency. However, there is no quota of how many civilians or armed forces personnel will be in the agency.

Zahid noted that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had appointed retired General Shamsur Rehman Kallu who was no longer a serving army official and thus considered to be a civilian.

Sajjad noted that hypothetically speaking, there was no bar on a civilian becoming the spymaster.

"There are civilian positions in the ISI hierarchy besides those held by serving military officials, but I'm not sure if a certain quota has been fixed for those jobs," he said.

Who does the ISI fall under?

Speaking on a TV show, retired Air Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry said that the ISI is bound to follow the prime minister's directives.

"[But] the people working there are bound to follow the COAS. When the army chief posts out a brigadier or major general [...] while an intimation goes to the cabinet secretary, the prime minister's permission is not necessary.

"So the institution is [answerable to] the premier but the manpower — 30-40 per cent of it is permanent and some of it in rotation. Which is why tenures last for two to three years.

"So the ISI chief will serve for two to three years, undoubtedly at the pleasure of the prime minister of Pakistan." He said that three to four options will go to the premier and he will select one of the candidates.

When the tenure is about to end, the COAS will intimate the premier and a new panel of candidates will be sent, he said.

He added that it was not possible that the COAS or the posting authority had not spoken about the need for transferring the current DG ISI so that he can qualify for the next position.

"So there is a cycle, a process and questions have been raised about this process," he said, adding that there was a system within the military that determined what an officer should do within each rank.

"So an unnecessary 'storm in a teacup' has been raised," he said.

What is the legal procedure?

Addressing a post-cabinet presser, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Oct 12 said that the legal procedure would be followed for appointing the new spymaster. But as is evident from the opinion of analysts, there is no set law in this case.

"Fawad said the legal process would be followed. But if it was clear what the legal process is, he would have mentioned it which means that it is not yet clear," Fahd said.

"Or we can conclude that a debate is being held on that legal process. We can also conclude [...] since he said the legal process would now be followed, was the legal process not followed previously?"

Sajjad added that the premier does not necessarily have a final say in the appointment. "However, his concurrence is needed for the appointment."

He added that he was not aware of any written statute delineating the procedure for the appointment of the ISI chief.

This is not the first time that a lack of set rules has led to ambiguity over the procedure of postings and appointments in the armed forces.

In August 2019, the prime minister had approved Gen Bajwa's extension as army chief nearly three months before he was due to retire — the second time in nearly a decade that the country's top general had their traditional term extended.

The matter had also been challenged in the apex court, which had temporarily allowed Gen Bajwa to stay on as the army chief, while directing parliament to legislate on the matter.

In January 2020, the parliament had passed three key bills seeking to empower the prime minister to reappoint and extend the tenures of the services chiefs and chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee, marking an end to the long and controversial tale.

Despite the many questions that remained, the information minister had said on October 13 that the process of consultation between PM Imran and COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa "had been completed", and that the process of a fresh appointment was under way.

According to Chaudhry, the "civil-military leadership has once again proven that all institutions are united for the country's stability, integrity and progress."

Fast-forward two weeks and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) issued a notification, confirming the appointment of Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum. Minutes later, the PMO tweeted the "detailed consultative process" that had been adopted for the appointment.

"During this process a list of officers was received from ministry of Defence. Prime Minister interviewed all the nominees. A final round of consultation was held between the Prime Minister and Chief of Army Staff today," said the PMO.

"After this detailed consultative process, name of Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum was approved as new DG ISI."