Reshuffle in the army – they have political overtones, especially when the ISI — some foreign powers’ bugbear — gets a new chief

BARRING changes at the very top, normal transfers and promotions in armies do not make news in democratic countries. In Pakistan, given its history, reshuffles in the army command make news because they have political overtones, especially when the ISI — some foreign powers’ bugbear — gets a new chief. On Monday, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani reshuffled the top army command, changing four of the nine corps commanders, appointing a new chief of the general staff and a new ISI chief. The changes signify confidence in the army chief’s ability to shed the Musharraf baggage and place men of his choice in key positions. More significantly, he could be rethinking the ISI’s role by choosing a general who he thinks can give a new and professional direction to the ISI. Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who replaces Lt Gen Nadeem Taj as ISI director-general, has been overseeing operations against the Taliban in Fata and other parts of the NWFP for the last two years. This should be an asset for an ISI chief, because knowledge of the goings-on in Fata and the cloak-and-dagger operations involving half a dozen intelligence agencies there should enable him to give better intelligence data to the 100,000-strong army battling the Taliban.

Gen Kayani has been supportive of the democratic government, and the change in the ISI’s stewardship has been done with the prime minister’s approval. This should give rise to hopes that Pakistan’s most famous or infamous spy agency will give up meddling in domestic politics and concentrate solely on its role as the armed forces’ intelligence arm. Its political intrigues and shenanigans have had disastrous consequences. During Ziaul Haq’s regime its ranks swelled to an unbelievable 90,000, and the military dictator used the agency brazenly to persecute political dissent and consolidate his power. More disastrous for Pakistan, the ISI began funding and arming some religious parties to send ‘mujahideen’ into Afghanistan to take part in the US-led ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Union. Even during the weak post-Zia governments, the ISI continued to determine the course of Pakistan’s Kashmir and Afghan policies. Some foreign powers still accuse the ISI of latent sympathy for the Taliban and withhold intelligence for fear of leakage. One hopes that under the changed circumstances and with a new set of commanders, the ISI and the army should be able to concern themselves solely with national security issues. (Dawn)