Speculation is rife that the US is behind a massive shake up at Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has been called a ‘state within a state’ due to its immense power. Time magazine has described it as one of the world’s most powerful spy agencies.
Now, 10 months after being appointed head of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Kayani, easily one of the most powerful men in Pakistan, has transformed the ISI leadership.
Former ISI Director General, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj, has been replaced by General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha (see photo) as part of a wide ranging overhaul of ISI top brass. In addition, the two-star generals at the ISI in charge of liaison with Islamist groups and with internal Pakistani politics, Asif Akhtar and Nusrat Naeem, have been “superseded” or denied promotion.
The new appointments come at a time of high tension between Islamabad and Washington. A series of unauthorized US military air strikes and ground offensives have killed dozens of Pakistani civilians in recent months.
The US suspects that loyalties within the ISI may partially lie with the Taliban, with whom the spy agency worked closely before the 9/11 attacks in New York. The US has also accused the ISI of being involved with the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July. Pakistan has denied all allegations.
In light of such fears, the US has repeatedly demanded change. On September 16, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs publicly demanded that the ISI be reformed.
Last week Pakistan’s newly elected President, Asif Ali Zardari, held an unpublicized meeting with Michael Hayden, head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to a report in the New York Times. Amid mounting US pressure for ISI reform, they apparently discussed what the CIA describes as “the double game played by Pakistan’s spy agency.” Hayden reportedly gave Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, a template for “ISI reform” in July.
Officials in both Islamabad and Washington have rejected the accusation that changes to the ISI leadership were engineered by the United States.
The new appointee, General Pasha, is known among military analysts as a “professional soldier.” In August, he accompanied General Kayani to a secret, highly unusual meeting between top Pakistani military leaders and American commanders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.
Time magazine reported Tuesday, that one of Kayani’s key priorities has been to restore relations between Washington and the Pakistan military which has received over $6 billion in US military aid since 2001.