The chosen one: Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam named new spymaster

Published: March 10, 2012
Newly appointed director-general of ISI Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam and outgoing ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha. PHOTOS: REUTERS & FILE

Newly appointed director-general of ISI Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam and outgoing ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha. PHOTOS: REUTERS & FILE


The government on Friday appointed a new head of the country’s premier military intelligence unit, quashing rumours of another extension for Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

Lieutenant-General Zaheerul Islam will step into Pasha’s boots as director-general of the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) after serving as the commander of the V Corps, a key army administrative unit that is based in Karachi.

“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has appointed Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam, corps commander Karachi, as new director general of the Inter Services Intelligence,” the PM’s office said in a terse statement.

The appointment of Lt-Gen Islam, whose nomination was supposedly backed by President Asif Ali Zardari, was finalised on Friday evening.

Outgoing chief

Islam takes over from Shuja Pasha, who was appointed in 2008 and was granted a one-year extension in March 2011. According to sources, Pasha had requested the army chief in December to relieve him of his duties as the ISI chief.  He is scheduled to retire on March 18.

Pasha’s tenure as ISI chief was overshadowed by a single event – the killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by US special forces in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011.

Some in the US accused the ISI, of “at best incompetence and at worst complicity” after bin Laden was found to have lived in a compound – a stone’s throw from the country’s largest military academy – for up to five years.

Consultations before appointment

According to credible information, consultations over the appointment had been ongoing between the prime minister, president and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Sources said that the prime minister had already told his cabinet ministers and advisers that they would announce the decision on Friday.

A reliable source, who is also a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Central Executive Committee, told The Express Tribune that the issue of an extension for Pasha came under lengthy discussion in the March 5 meeting of the core committee.

During the meeting, a surprising majority of participants had recommended that the prime minister settle all issues with the military and judiciary, in the spirit of the party’s reconciliation policy.

The source said that the members had assured prime minister that the CEC would endorse his decision to extend Pasha’s tenure.

“Any such decision will be taken in the larger interest of national security and interest. After detailed consultations, keeping in view the sensitive regional situation, the decision will be announced,” the source quoted Prime Minister Gilani as saying.

It was further revealed by the source that the prime minister was in favour of Shuja Pasha and spoke to the president in this regard.  However, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chuadhry Nisar Ali Khan expressed his dissatisfaction over the proposal.

In a strong-worded press conference, Nisar said that if the government decided to grant an extension, “it would be a duping the nation once again”.

After Nisar’s opposition, the premier dropped the idea and asked the defence minister to send him nominations of officers eligible for the post.

Incoming spymaster

Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, 56, was born into a military family and belongs to the Punjab Regiment. He had passed out from the 55th PMA long course.

Islam commanded a division in Murree before being promoted.

He has also served as the deputy director general of the ISI between 2007 and 2008.  He was then promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and was posted to Karachi.

Lt Gen Islam will be the 18th director general of the ISI since 1959 – the inaugural year when the premier spy agency was headed by Brigadier Riaz Hussain. Analysts say the incoming director-general has held some of the most important posts in the army since his commissioning in 1977, and is seen both inside and outside the military as an experienced and professional soldier.

Defence analyst Talat Masood, himself a one-time lieutenant general, views Islam’s appointment as a “good choice”, adding that he enjoys the respect and confidence of his colleagues, as well as the army chief.

“(Islam) has the confidence of the people who matter,” Masood said. “The institution also needed to change; this injects new thinking and energy into the organisation.”

Others, however, believe that policies will remain unchanged within one of the country’s most powerful institutions and will still be directed by General Kayani.

“The role of the ISI does not necessarily depend on an individual, but it’s a policy that is designed primarily by the army chief. I think there will be continuity of policy,” said political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

Masood heaped praise on Shuja Pasha for his performance, which he said was incredible – except for the May 2 US raid.

Shuja Pasha has done a stupendous job especially when Pakistan was going through a rough patch with both the US and Afghanistan,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • alicia
    Mar 10, 2012 - 6:46AM

    Ohhh I wil miss pasha the biggest failure in ISI’s history.
    Pasha you have ruined Pakistan’s name for generations to come


  • Ali. Mir
    Mar 10, 2012 - 7:43AM

    Best wishes to the outgoing head of ISI.
    And best wishes for success to the new ISI head. May you serve the country well.and make it peaceful


  • Mar 10, 2012 - 7:55AM

    Pity the country where change of the intelligence head is the most important and most talked about issue, but where people committing suicide due to hunger and injustice are ‘normal’ matters.


  • Mar 10, 2012 - 8:42AM

    Indeed, Mr. Pasha came to the country’s ISI at a critical time and did a splendid job in safeguarding the nation’s interest. Vicissitudes are a natural process and we as a nation have to look ahead. Mr. Nisar must wish him well for his courage, which the PMLN sadly, must acquire.

    The incoming DG ISI knows that the nation of Pakistan and its government have a wealth of experience of the customary bad behavior of the USA, UK and EU. With that in store, it should not be difficult to pre-empt and pro-act the future relations between our countries. “Where there is a will there is a way.”

    Mubarak ho aap ko and Salams to Pakistan


  • Asif Malik
    Mar 10, 2012 - 8:45AM

    But SC has asked government not to remove COAS and DG ISI. Yet another contempt.


  • Ch Allah Daad
    Mar 10, 2012 - 8:52AM

    Return of Zia-ul-Haque


  • Mirza
    Mar 10, 2012 - 10:40AM

    @Asif Malik:
    Get real, you must be kidding? Nobody is removed, he is retired once again. The extension duration is over. You have got to be kidding by making fun of PCO SC’s interference in every executive decision.


  • Organ of Big Profit
    Mar 10, 2012 - 10:47AM

    Hire me I want ISI DG be


  • Mar 10, 2012 - 11:50AM

    best of luck to the new chief of the army stff may you serve the nation
    and remove the errors made by ahmad shuja pasha


  • Aftab kenneth Wilson
    Mar 10, 2012 - 3:49PM

    Congrats to new ISI; Chief. He is also a close relative of Bollywood Star Shahrukh Khan as reported by a tv channel. I hope new chief will keep himself away from local politics.Recommend

  • Farhan
    Mar 10, 2012 - 4:28PM

    Rizvi is right. Few chances of any change coming into the ISI policies. Kayani has to prove something …that the armed forces are focussing on professional duties.

    Why? because terrorists are still strong and killing innocent Pakistanis at their will.

    What military is waiting for? Who is supporting Difa e Pakistan behind the scene? When will the mad retired Army generals stop supporting banned organizations?


  • Nasarminallah239
    Mar 10, 2012 - 7:16PM

    Just for one incident, Pasha cannot be labelled as a failure. He had taken over ISI in very difficult times. Through out his tenure he has been fighting for the national security on different fronts. the US, India and Afghanistan blamed ISI for all their ills and our media happily joined the chorus to malign the ISI. Human rights organizations mostly funded by US, did every thing to create hurdles in Pasha’s work. Even our own Government turned against the ISI Chief for unearthing the treacherous activities of Hussain Haqqani, a well known crook. Under such adverse environment, Pasha had to discharge his duties. Due to his dedicated services, most of the terrorist networks in the country have been broken. I would like to commend his good work.


  • DauR
    Mar 11, 2012 - 1:19PM

    You may be too young to know about the history and talk about the present of pakistan.
    Shuja Pasha was genious and i salute him as well as the coming Zahir-ul-Islam push ISI one step forward than the predecessors.

    We should not care about the National Security, ISI and Army.
    They are professional and experienced peoples in all those organizations, let them do there job as we as a nation are paying them.

    We as an individual, do our own jobs.


  • Zaheerul Hassan
    Mar 12, 2012 - 9:15AM

    Salute to graceful exit of General Pasha, he pushed CIA to the wall . New DGI is also a professional general who will inshahullah defeat enemies of Pakistan.


  • Ishaal Zehra
    Mar 16, 2012 - 10:08AM

    ISI is a protector of our country and serving us a long time. We are proud of you Gen Pasha and so as on ISI hope your successor will do the same. You were a General with strength of character and moral courage. we wish all the best to upcoming gen.


  • Ahsan
    Mar 19, 2012 - 5:08PM

    salute to Pasha


  • Apr 1, 2012 - 12:59PM

    We must respect our elite intelligence agency and their heads as these people make many many contributions for the betterment of Pakistan which probably we dont even know , it would not be fair on our part to pass negative comments just by reading news in the press , i strongly feel ISI is one agency that has kept this country going and there is some check and balance , my best wishes for the new DG.


  • Muhammad Bilal
    Apr 5, 2012 - 10:24AM

    We need CHANGE in policies not persons………………….Understood………..65 years have been passed….and Agencies failed to achieve goals of Pakistan (2 Nations Methodology).

    What type of intelligence they have then??????????????

    Alllah Hafiz


  • Muhammad Bilal Salfi
    Apr 5, 2012 - 10:38AM


    Intelligence agencies needs to read Holy Quran thoroughly in their own languages and Books of Hadees then they will become capable to handle all hurdles locally or internationally Insha Allah. (Guaranteed)

    Allah Hafiz


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