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By Who will be the next chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence, provided the present incumbent retires this year? asks Abhijit Bhattacharyya
  • Published 28.02.12

Sunday, March 18, 2012 is the 60th birthday of the 19th (the present incumbent) chief of of the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan, Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha. That is also the day of his retirement. The question today is: will he or will he not retire from service to make way for the 20th ISI chief on March 18, 2012? Will Shuja Pasha get an extension once again? It is a question which cannot have any definitive answer owing to the complex nature of the subject. So one can analyse instead the process of the previous ISI chiefs’ appointments, and the development of the office from the time of its inception.

Let us analyse the importance of the ISI chief’s chair in the larger context of South-Asian realpolitik. It began with the nascent ‘religious’ State’s identity crisis as a ‘minority’, occasioned by the proximity of a neighbour with an overwhelming non-Muslim majority that had ‘ruled’ over an extensive area for several centuries in the past. The Pakistani ruling class always had a feeling of deprivation and the sense of a historic mission to reclaim the land over which their “perceived predecessors” had ruled. This gave birth to the ‘martial race’ mentality that, from the beginning, characterized the personnel of Pakistan’s army. The army was smart enough to take early control of the polity, thereby causing the rise to power of the duo comprising the ISI and the army. Colonel Syed Shahid Hamid was the first boss of the ISI. Then came Robert Cawthome, followed by Brigadier Hussain, whose rule began in 1959 and ended in 1966. The motto, “faith, unity, discipline”, was ingrained in the system of the institution. Mohammad Akbar Khan, who served from 1966 to 1971, was the first Indian Muslim to attain the rank of a general in the British Indian army. Major General Ghulam Jilani Khan (1971-1978) was more of a religious fanatic than a professional soldier, as he took a leave of absence from the army to volunteer as a guerrilla-war warrior in Kashmir in 1947-1948, fighting for Kashmir’s “independence and right to join Pakistan”. His posting to Washington in the 1950s as the first Pakistani military attaché and his subsequent command of the 15th Infantry Division in Sialkot, close to the Indian border, made him simultaneously pro-United States of America and rabidly anti-India, thereby sowing the seeds of a destructive, fanatic and clandestine culture in the psyche of the ISI for which it is notorious across the globe. Understandably, Ghulam Jilani Khan could not end his innings without being more virulently anti-India than ever before owing to his soldiers’ wholesale humiliation at the hands of the Indian army in Dhaka in 1971.

It was during the tenure of LieutenantGeneral Akhtar Abdur Rahman (1980-1987), however, that the ISI changed from being an intelligence agency of the State to a virtual omnipresent and omniscient ‘state within a State’. An Afghan migrant from the princely state of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, Abdur Rahman was the mastermind behind the Afghan mujahideen’s offensive against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Thereafter, Akhtar Abdur Rahman and Afghan resistance became synonymous.

Understandably, the Sargodha-born Punjabi, Hamid Gul (1987-1989), of the Armoured Corps, found it easy to diversify further and create the political body, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, which led the “jihad front in Kashmir” against India in 1989. If Hamid Gul is to be considered a “religious warrior” in an army man’s garb, the ISI chief, the Pashtun Lieutenant-General, Javed Nasir (1992-1993), will surely be remembered for mixing an excessive dose of ‘religious potassium cyanide’ with the action plan of the ISI. Nasir hurt India not only in Kashmir but also in other regions of South Asia. He supplied arms to the Arakanese Muslims inhabiting the Bangladesh-Myanmar borders, had direct contact with Tamil extremists and did gun-running and fund-raising in Bangkok. Amongst his other master plans was the Peshawar Accord, which successfully installed the first mujahideen government in Kabul under Sibghatullah Mojaddedi. He also took direct control of Sikh pilgrims during religious functions in Pakistan. In fact, Nasir’s strong anti-US and anti-India programmes created a fanatic following.

It took the time, labour and initiative of two ISI bosses, Javed Ashraf Qazi and Naseem Rana, to de-Islamize the outfit and put some semblance of professionalism into the order. But what happened during Nawaz Sharif’s tenure became a spectacular precedent. Ziauddin Butt, from the Corps of Engineers, a non-fighting arm, was made the ISI chief against the wishes of the army chief, Pervez Musharraf, in October 1998. To make matters worse, he ‘replaced’ the latter as the general of the Pakistani army for a few hours, till the coup by Musharraf nipped the powers of Ziauddin as well as that of his mentor, the premier of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in the bud.

This is to the credit of the coup master, Pervez Musharraf, whose first act on assumption of the politico-professional office on October 12, 1999 was to appoint the Punjabi Lieutenant-General, Mahmud Ahmed, a confirmed Tablighi Jamaat member and Taliban sympathizer, the director general of the ISI. However, 9/11 spoilt it all, and the ISI chief had to make an inglorious exit on October 8, 2001, just before the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Understandably, a comparatively low-profile Punjabi, Ehsan ul Haq, held the ISI fort for three years thereafter (2001-2004), to be followed by another Punjabi, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani (2004-2007), a confirmed US protégé, his unquestionable professional qualifications notwithstanding. His close link with the US subsequently caused him to become the army chief as Musharraf had to hand over the baton in October 2007.

Nadeem Taj, Musharraf’s man Friday, had it good as long as Musharraf survived the turbulence of Pakistan’s politics. Musharraf’s exit in 2008 meant Nadeem Taj’s exit too in October 2008. He left to command the XXX Corps at Gujranwala. Nadeem Taj was accused of ‘double dealing’ with militants to the detriment of US interests in the AfPak sector.

In this historical setting entered the latest ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, in 2008. Amongst other qualifications which endeared him to the Americans are Pasha’s hands-on experience of planning operations against the Taliban and al Qaida militants in the federally administered tribal areas and the North-West Frontier Province (Pakhtunkhwa), his anti-India actions in Kashmir and other parts of South Asia notwithstanding. The Kayani-Pasha duo is most useful to the Americans in one of the most dangerous areas of the world. And that is important. Did they not, directly or indirectly, help the clandestine US-led assault to hunt down Osama bin Laden and bring him out of his own lair in 2011? Critics may argue that it was a ‘one-off operation’ and not necessarily a manifestation of pro-America policy. Yet there are too many missing links and too many coincidences here to ignore this as an aberration.

For the post of the next director general of the ISI, five names have cropped up today, in case Shuja Pasha manages to retire on March 18, 2012. In the seniority list there is Lieutenant-General Rashid Masood (of the Baloch regiment like the army chief, Kayani) of the IV Corps Lahore retires on April 9, 2014. Lieutenant-General Mohammad Zahirul Islam (Punjab Regiment) of V Corps Karachi retires on October 1, 2014. Lieutenant-General Muhammad Asif, colonel commandant of the Sind Regiment, retires on April 15, 2015 and does not hold any command job. Lieutenant-General Javed Iqbal — Frontier Force — too is without a command job and retires on April 15, 2015. And finally, there is the Punjabi Major General Naushad Ahmed Kayani — Punjab Regiment — the present director general of the Military Intelligence.

Though a guessing game about the appointment of the ISI chief could be hopelessly off the mark, one feels that the two corps commanders of Lahore and Karachi could be out of the race owing to their advanced age. Moreover, Lahore and Karachi seem to be ‘peace stations’, unlike the Peshawar and Quetta postings for the army commanders at present. As for the other two staff duty lieutenant-generals, although their age could be an advantage, it could get neutralized in the absence of their experience of intelligence postings in the past. The dark horse, despite being the juniormost amongst the five contenders, however, could be Naushad Ahmed Kayani. As the director general of the Military Intelligence, he obviously is the eyes and ears of his chief from the same Kayani clan.

It is apparent that without the simultaneous nod of General Kayani and the US, none can take the chair of the ISI chief as yet, the contrary wishes of the Zardari-Gilani duo notwithstanding. Here one may recall that soon after becoming the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani had, for two months, tried to gain control over the appointment of the director general of the ISI as well as to place the agency under the administrative, financial and operational control of the interior ministry. All that was in vain as General Kayani successfully pushed Shuja Pasha into the ISI chair. Though 2012 is no 2008, the army chief, Kayani, and his US mentors are still not to be ignored. Even if Shuja Pasha, the 19th boss of the ISI, does manage to leave on March 18, 2012, the 20th chief of the ISI could still be anyone but a chosen member of the tottering Zardari-Gilani team.

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