Appointment of new ISI chief

Published: March 11, 2012

Islam has earlier served as the deputy director general of the ISI. PHOTO: APP

There will be a temptation to think that the appointment of Lieutenant-General Zahirul Islam, as the new director-general of the ISI, will bring about a sea change at the premier spy agency. While it is entirely possible that General Islam will be less combative and more conciliatory than his predecessor Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the fact remains that simply appointing a new head is unlikely to have too much of an impact on the agency’s activities and performance of duties. As such, the most likely scenario is that the ISI under the new chief will continue on its path of trying to have it both ways — at least in the eyes of some — on the issue of militancy.

The most important challenge facing the new ISI chief is trying to repair the steadily-worsening relations with the US. Last year in September, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman joint chiefs of staff, claimed that the Haqqani Network was a “veritable arm” of the ISI. The US has also been suspicious of the ISI’s role in the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad. Furthermore, relations with the US soured when the agency failed to find the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, however, one hopes that an attempt will be made to examine this under the new chief. General Islam is likely to be a familiar figure to the US, since he had previously served as a senior official in the ISI, before he took over as a corps commander in Karachi. But in the case of the US and the ISI, familiarity largely seems to breed contempt. The mutual suspicion between the two sides is so intense that one should not expect a complete change of tide especially since the newly-appointed chief is an established military figure.

Rebuilding the credibility of the ISI will be the general’s toughest task. The intelligence agency’s political activities are currently under scrutiny in the Supreme Court after the judiciary decided to take up Air Marshal (retd)Asghar Khan’s petition against the ISI’s funding of politicians in the 1990s. The US, while sure to breathe a sigh of relief that Pasha was not granted a second extension, will remain wary. Thus, the best start that can be made given the current situation is for the military to ensure that there is no such interference by the agency in the country’s political process.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2012.

Reader Comments (12)

  • Milyu
    Mar 11, 2012 - 3:20AM

    When Mullen called the Haqqanis a veritable arm of the ISI, Pentagon officials immediately said they have scant evidence of the ISI’s hand in the attack that made Mullen say that. Obama himself dismissed his allegation as just an outburst of anger. This shouldn’t even be a sticking point because the US itself refuses to designate the Haqqanis as a terrorist organization so as not to scuttle chances for peace negotiations. Just ask the NY Times.

    Re: Saleem Shahzad, collaborating with a foreign intelligence agency behind your own government’s back in ways that can be damaging to your country’s national security is considered treasonous everywhere, so he was killed. Extra-judicially? Unfortunately yes, but this was a matter involving sensitive state secrets so it logically would not have been brought before a court of law, even if this had happened in some other country.

    Re: Osama bin Laden, we have seen no evidence yet that he was indeed in some compound in Abbottabad and the entire claim he was killed on May 2nd is simply not believable because the US has changed every single part of its story on how it got to him lots and lots of times (the latest twist being that he was never thrown into the sea).

    Such allegations by the US are immature pressure tactics so while I agree that the ISI should stop interfering in Pakistani politics and clean up its act on the missing persons’ case, the new chief most definitely should continue Gen. Pasha’s policy regarding relations with the US; the ISI’s “credibility” must be a secondary concern to that.

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  • Usman
    Mar 11, 2012 - 12:59PM

    Mr. Editor, why are you so keen for a ‘sea of change’ in the ISI? What has the ISI done so drastically wrong? Please, spare us the tired old line of ‘ISI supporting militants’. There isn’t a spy agency in the world that doesn’t support militant groups, that is how they operate.

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  • Mar 11, 2012 - 1:15PM

    Dear Usman, The ISI done a lot in the country, as an independent citizen of pakistan I would like to say that this agency should stop all of its activities…

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  • Tim Hover
    Mar 11, 2012 - 2:50PM

    @Mujahid torwali:

    Do you even know the full extent of ISI’s duties and activities, whats your source of information? our national media which wouldnt stop ranting againt ISI due to thier funding from western countries, wake up as there is still time and do something for pakistan rather then complaining against those who are working to save it from foreign and domestic enemies including our own people.

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  • harkol
    Mar 11, 2012 - 4:23PM

    Appointment of an officer to head a secret agency of Pakistan is national and International News!! What can one say?!

    While we are at it, can any one name the chief of RAW. Even in India, people would have to google it up. A clue – He isn’t from Military.

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  • Danish Ali Ahmad
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:52AM

    To all of the above ISI-lovers.
    This appointment has brought nothing new, but the same old face of the higher ups in Pakistan Millitary. A man that can wine-dine like westerner, walk-talk-jog like westerner, golf-polo-swim like westerner is he who can reach higher ranks in Pakistan military.
    Name one of your Cheifs that were not like above, including zia-ul-haq.
    To the performance of ISI:
    its a failed agency if put into context of its own people (i-e-pakistani).
    it has no technological intelligence gathering appratus, aside from human intelligence which are often FALSE.
    The agency has been miserable in safegaurding lives of common man in country, and involved in people abduction in many parts of the country.
    compared to other countries agencies, it has failed to safe gaurding its own air space, territorial space, and at sea.
    In the Past 65 years and so, it has done only 1 thing, MANIPULATE politics.
    The agency make sure in each election that the nation should not unite under one man, and whoever wins the election should be a corrupted person whom they can bend easily.
    mossad/cia/raw/khad/kgb/mi5/mi6 etc etc… all of them keep their citizen and country safe!
    do not B.S your mind, ISI has been failed!
    it is ONLY THIS army and ISI that wants good reltaion with USA, and begs dollar on Nation behalf JUST to STASH more millions in their foreign accounts………
    I M done with plundered wealth of Pakistan, I am done with tarnished social fabric of my culture, I AM DONE WITH SOPHISTICATED CANTONMENTS AT LARGE.. i am done seeing poor getting drawned in floods, becoming beggers, no jobs, BUT can spot a military family happily attending a extragavazingly levished parties. TO HELL with this ARMY.

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  • Naega
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:11PM

    @Danish Ali Ahmad: “mossad/cia/raw/khad/kgb/mi5/mi6 etc etc… all of them keep their citizen and country safe!”

    Exactly HOW do you think they do that? Do you know?

    They do that by doing the exact same things the ISI does! And they’re much more efficient and effective in doing them.

    Consider that next time you feel like throwing an attention-grabbing tantrum against your own country, against the very agency that’s working day and night to protect the lives of people like yourself who don’t deserve it.

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  • danish ali ahmad
    Mar 13, 2012 - 8:47PM

    @Naega: first of all you are NO ONE who can tell me what i deserve or what not. you have to come out from your totalitarian mindset.
    Bashing or criticizing ISI does not make me LESS Pakistani!
    I am a Pakistani, and will remain so, no matter what you think or desire.

    second, i would not bother myself indulging into useless/ pointless arguments especially when the other does not know the subject matter.

    lastly, i have only one thing to say to you, educate yourself!!
    1-Raymond davis was released by ISI, at army chief orders. (dont tell me zardari wanted it)
    2-only after salalah post attack, they close NATO supply route.(because a lieutenant got killed)
    it does not matter how many civilian have been died earlier. especially 40 elders right after davis release.
    3- They will open route at their own will and when their interest are met!
    4- Name 1 ONE poor sobaydaar (jawan) reached highest rank in military??
    5- it is a ARMY INC as described by Siddiqa. The army has businesses in all over Pakistan, and in many industries.
    6-FAUJI Fertilizer is owned and manned by RETIRED army personnel, which is accused of supplying bomb making materials. BOMBS that are blasted in our cities, orphaning 1000 of children.
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  • Yukon
    Mar 14, 2012 - 2:42AM

    @Express Tribune: What business is it of yours to propagate ridiculous suggestions to make the ISI cater to the whims of Pakistan’s enemies? As a news organization you should be responsible and professional; do not cross the line between engaging in genuine journalistic work and committing anti-state activities. It is articles like this one that give liberalism a bad name in Pakistan.

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  • Jyuko
    Mar 14, 2012 - 3:10AM

    @Danish Ali Ahmad: “A man that can wine-dine like westerner, walk-talk-jog like westerner, golf-polo-swim like westerner is he who can reach higher ranks in Pakistan military.”

    So you want a bearded fanatic jihadi to reach the higher ranks in the army?

    Your claim that the ISI has failed is nothing but baloney. This agency has been fighting against multiple foreign agencies far more powerful than itself and still managed to defeat the Americans in Afghanistan. That in no way qualifies as a failure, even if this agency has done its job with less finesse than those other ones have.

    If you think it has done nothing other than manipulate politics then don’t pretend you are informed at all. You think RAW, Mossad, the CIA, MI6 and other agencies don’t manipulate their countries’ politics, maintain brutal control over their citizens, and completely call the shots on their military and foreign policies? Are you really so naive?

    You are simply brainwashed by propaganda from Pakistan’s enemies who want the ISI to cater to their whims instead of doing its duty.

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  • Naega
    Mar 14, 2012 - 3:11AM

    @Danish Ali Ahmad: Just so you know, I have posted answers to all of your bullet points, if you cannot see them then it means the Express Tribune refused to publish them. Rest very well assured, your outbursts are nothing more than ramblings of someone who has no information.

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  • Milyu
    Mar 14, 2012 - 6:50AM

    @Danish ali ahmad: I definitely will tell you what you deserve and what you don’t when you bash your own army and agency based on nothing but hot air, especially when that’s the thanks they get for protecting your life day and night.

    You are the one who has mindset issues.

    1) Yes I know that Pasha freed Ray Davis, but don’t you tell me Zarfari didn’t want it, of course he did!)
    2) Exactly what part of it do you have a problem with? The drone attacks take place with Pakistan’s permission there are only a handful of unauthorized ones but now Pakistan is clamping down on all of them. After Salala, Pakistan’s sovereignty was violated so our country logically responded by implementing the resolution its parliament passed after the May 2nd operation. This is not a civilian/soldier thing so don’t try to make it look like it is.
    3) So what’s your point?
    4) Zia-ul-Haq hailed from the lower middle class and look where that got this country. Also, this is a completely irrelevant point. If you expect any military in the world to enact an affirmative action program to promote a particular social class then you can keep on dreaming.
    5) Yes that is true, and this is a very GOOD thing for Pakistan. You are cursing a wondrous blessing, it’s a GOOD thing that the army is in business, it’s helping an otherwise destitute economy that cannot provide sustained means of sustenance for retired officers. Lots of armies around the world do business and this never detracts from their ability to defend their country so stop your silly rants.
    6) You say “retired army personnel, which is accused of supplying bomb making materials” – note your own use of the word “accused.” The US has provided ZERO evidence in this matter. Pakistani fertilizer producers even offered to have the Americans mark and track their products so that it could be confirmed where it goes and how it’s used. The US rejected that offer, so don’t you go peddling more nonsense by citing nothing but empty allegations.

    Next time give me some real, informed arguments instead of posting this rubbish that only someone completely in the dark could write.

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