Pakistan: Zaheerul Islam appointed new head of ISI

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appointed a new director-general for Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, on Friday, according to Reuters.

Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam will be replacing Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha who is retiring on March 18, after holding the post since 2008, during some of the most turbulent times in Pakistan and America’s relationship.

The Associated Press reported that Islam is the scion of a military family and is currently serving as army commander in Karachi. Between 2008 and 2010, Islam also served as the deputy head of the ISI. In his new post, he will be a major player in Pakistan’s efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

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The New York Times noted that the position of the ISI chief is viewed as the second most powerful in Pakistan’s military, and maybe even in the country. Though the ISI officially reports to the prime minister, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

According to CNN, the appointment was approved by Kayani, as he submitted three names to the prime minister from which to choose Pasha’s successor. An army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said, “Obviously, the army chief is close to all three of the individuals he recommended for the position, but we don't comment on why he chose those names.”

Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Reuters that the changing of the guard will bring little change, as, “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.”

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The ISI has played a central role in the deterioration of Pakistan and America’s relationship, with American officials accusing the spy agency of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The American raid that saw Osama Bin Laden captured and killed in a compound in Pakistan strained the relationship between the two countries, and was further aggravated by an incident in November 2011 when American troops mistakenly shot 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, according to the AP.

Last September, Adm. Mike Mullen, who was serving at the time as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional hearing that the pro-Taliban Haqqani network was a “virtual arm” of the ISI, according to The Times.

However, CNN quoted an anonymous US official who said, “We would expect [Islam] to continue cooperation with the United States in our mutual fight against terrorism.”

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