Given the spike in civil-military tensions, it comes as no surprise that the embattled government will not pursue any further extension to retain the services of Director General (DG) of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
To the contrary, the government is believed to be actively considering naming a successor before General Pasha’s extended tenure comes to an end on March 18. There have also been no indications that army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani would be interested in an extension for the current DG ISI.
The appointment of a successor will assume greater significance in the backdrop of recent tensions. Even though the prime minister has the authority to appoint the future spymaster, it would be a rare move for the civilian government to take the decision without the military establishment on board.
It is also of note that the appointing authority, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, has reportedly been a specific target of the military’s ire. First, his statements to a Chinese daily were met with a strong-worded reply by the army – which then is reported have approached President Zardari to demand a retraction from the premier.
The prime minister also unceremoniously sacked the defence secretary, a retired general though to be close to the army chief. The defence secretary has challenged the move in court, and has leveled strong accusations against the premier.
The appointment of a new DG ISI is bound to become an intriguing affair.
A government official told The Express Tribune that a decision had already been taken that no further extension would be granted to Lt-Gen Pasha, whose relations with the government also strained after he actively pursued the Memogate case.
The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, disclosed that the government was planning to appoint the new DG ISI weeks before Pasha’s tenure expires in a bid to preempt any further misunderstanding with the military.
However, in the past, attempts by former prime ministers to strategically appoint generals closer to the civilian government at the key slot have backfired. Benazir Bhutto appointed Lt General (retd) Shamsur Rahman Kallu as the DG ISI during her first tenure but the move only led to strained ties between her government and the then army chief General Mirza Aslam Baig.
Similarly, Nawaz Sharif had appointed Lt General (retd) Ziauddin Butt as the DG ISI during his tenure, but the decision led to eventual ouster of his government by the then army chief General Parvez Musharraf in October 1999.
Even so, despite the current friction between civil and military authorities, consultations are believed to be underway for the appointment of the new DG ISI.
Sources close to The Express Tribune have revealed that at least three names have surfaced for the post. Frontrunners include Chief of General Staff Lt General Wahid Arshad, Corps Commander Karachi Lt-General Muhammad Zahirul Islam and Corps Commander Peshawar Lt-General Khalid Rabbani. All three are to retire in 2014.
Another military source claimed that Lt-General Zahirul Islam is believed to be a strong contender for the position because of a previous stint with the ISI. Before being appointed Corps Commander Karachi, he was the head of ISI’s internal wing which dealt with counter-intelligence and domestic issues. However, there is no official confirmation on whether the army has formally forwarded the proposed names to the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2012.