Pakistan names new spy chief: at U.S. behest or own move?

September 30, 2008

Pakistan has replaced the head of its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, following months of questions from the United States about its reliability in the battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda.  Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, formerly head of military operations, will replace Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj.

File photo of General Ashfaq KayaniThe change was part of a major overhaul of the military leadership by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, who also replaced the head of the 10 Corps in Rawalpindi, the most powerful corps in the army.

So to what extent was the United States responsible for the move? Or how far was it Pakistan’s own attempt to shore up its security operations as it cracks down on Islamist militants, who according to U.S. military commander David Petraeus threaten Pakistan’s “very existence”?

Washington has long suspected elements within the ISI of passing sensitive information to the Taliban –with whom the spy agency worked closely before the 9/11 attacks on the United States — undermining its campaign in Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan also accused the ISI of involvement in the July bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Pakistan has denied the allegations.

The New York Times reported at the weekend that President Asif Ali Zardari had held an unpublicised meeting with Michael Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, during his visit to the United States last week, amid ongoing U.S. pressure about what it called “the double game played by Pakistan’s spy agency”.

But it also quoted Zardari as saying that: “The ISI will be handled, that is our problem.” He added that ”We don’t hunt with the hound and run with the hare, which is what (former president Pervez) Musharraf was doing,” and said that ”Anyone not conforming with my government’s policy will be thrown out.”

Besides asking how much the change of leadership at the ISI was dictated by Washington, the other question is how much the army and the government worked together on it.  

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper said in carrying out the overhaul of the military leadership, General Kayani ”has put in place a new team to implement his vision for reviving the prestige of the armed forces and for enhancing the security of the state.” The army’s authority has been challenged by U.S. military incursions across Pakistan’s border, in what Pakistan sees as a violation of its sovereignty.

The News added however that the trend of the reshuffle demonstrated “full coordination between the civil and military leadership”.

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A change of one man makes no difference in an organization. The US charges against ISI, never made officially, are only a pressure campaign.