Pakistan named a new head of its main intelligence service, a change sure to be scrutinized by American officials who have questioned the powerful spy agency’s loyalties in the war on terror.
Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, the new chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, oversaw military offensives against militants in Pakistan’s restive northwest tribal areas in his most recent job as director general of military operations.
Pakistani intelligence helped create the Taliban. U.S. intelligence agencies suspect rogue ISI elements may still be giving the Taliban sensitive information to aid militants in their growing insurgency in Afghanistan, even though officially, Pakistan is a U.S. ally in fighting terrorism.
There are lingering suspicions that elements in the ISI may want to retain the Taliban as assets against longtime rival India. India, Afghanistan — and reportedly the U.S. — suspect the ISI of involvement in the July 7 bombing outside India’s Embassy in Kabul, which killed more than 60 people.
Pakistan denies the allegations.
Pasha will be pivotal in joint U.S.-Pakistani efforts to locate al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, believed to be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border in the lawless, tribal areas.
Urbane and apparently at ease with foreign reporters, Pasha has acknowledged the price Pakistan was paying for its past sponsorship of radical Islam.
“We pumped in millions of dollars for establishing it, and now we are up against it,” he said in a media briefing in November.
At the same time, Pasha expressed skepticism about Washington’s policies in the war on terror. Asked whether the U.S. understood militancy in the region, he replied: “Brute use of force” killed too many civilians and stoked extremism.
Pasha’s appointment was the most important of several changes in a major shake-up of military leadership by army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Military analyst Talat Masood said the changes appeared to be an effort by Kayani — who succeeded former President Pervez Musharraf as army chief and previously headed the ISI himself — to consolidate his control over the military.
In July, the Pakistani government reportedly tried to bring the ISI under the control of the Interior Ministry, but quickly reversed the decision apparently after military dissent.
Pasha has also commanded troops for the U.N. mission to Sierra Leone in 2001-2002 and was appointed last year by the world body as an adviser on peacekeeping operations.
He replaces Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who was in the position for about a year after being appointed by Musharraf. Taj was a close Musharraf aide, including during his 1999 coup.
Pakistan has spent about half of its 61-year history under army rule, but Kayani has indicated he wants to keep the military out of politics and rehabilitate its image after Musharraf’s nine-year rule.