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Rediff.com  » News » B Raman: Why a new ISI chief is anointed

B Raman: Why a new ISI chief is anointed

Last updated on: October 01, 2008 03:29 IST

The General headquarters of the Pakistan Army announced on the night of September 29 that Major-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), has been promoted as Lt. General and posted as the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in place of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who has been transferred and posted as the Commander of the XXX Corps based at Gujranwala.

The change at the top of the ISI was part of a reshuffle involving 14 senior officers of the Army initiated by Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), after meeting Gilani, the Prime Minister, shortly after Kayani's return from a week-long visit to China. The announcement of the changes, which were projected by a spokesman of the Army as routine changes necessitated by the impending retirement of some senior officers, was made when President Asif Ali Zardari had not yet returned from his visit to the US.

Under the changes introduced by Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf, when he was the President and the COAS, the powers for the approval of all promotions and postings in the ranks of Major-General and above are with the President. The COAS is competent to order all promotions and postings up to the rank of Brigadier. Though an impression has been sought to be given that all promotions and postings announced on September 29,2008, were made with the approval of or in consultation with Prime Minister Gilani, it is very likely that Zardari's approval had been obtained either before he left for New York  or while he was there.

Among other important changes, Lt Gen Yousuf, present Vice-Chief of General Staff, has been appointed as Corps Commander Bahawalpur in place of  Lt Gen Raza Khan, who  has been shifted as DG Joint Staff Headquarters.

Maj-General Javed Iqbal, presently posted as GOC Jhelum, has been appointed as Director-General Military Operations (DG MO). Commander 10 Corps (Rawalpindi) Lt Gen Mohsin Kamal has been moved to General Headquarters as Military Secretary (MS) and in his place newly promoted Lt-General Tahir Mehmood has been appointed as Commander Rawalpindi Corps.

Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad has been appointed the VCGS and the  newly promoted Lt General Mustafa Khan has been posted as the  Chief of the General Staff (CGS) in place of Lt Gen Salahuddin Satti, who will retire from the  Army next week.

The reshuffle involved the promotion of  seven Majors-General  to the rank of Lieutenants-General. They are Major General Tahir Mahmood (Infantry - present Commander Special Services Group), Major-General Shahid Iqbal (Infantry - Chief Instructor National Defence University), Major General Tanvir Tahir (EME - DG C4Is), Major-General Zahid Hussain (Artillery - Commandant Pakistan Military Academy), Major General Ahmad Shuja Pasha (Infantry - DG Military Operations), Major-General Mohammad Mustafa Khan (Armoured Corps - ISI), and Major-General Ayyaz Saleem Rana (Armoured Corps - ISI). Major-Generals Nusrat Naeem (ISI), Asif Akhtar (ISI), Khalid Jaffari (Anti-Narcotics Force)), Shoukat Sultan (GOC Lahore) and Mohammad Saddique (GHQ - former acting Chairman National Accountability Bureau ) have been superseded. They will, however, continue to serve as Majors-General.

Of the five senior officers in the ISI -- one of the rank of Lt.General and four  of the rank of Maj.Gen -- Lt.Gen.Nadeem Taj has been moved out, Maj.Gen.Mustafa Khan has been promoted Lt.Gen. and appointed as the CGS, who acts as the eyes and ears of the COAS in the GHQ, and Maj.Gen.Ayyaz Saleem has been promoted and posted  as the  Chairman of the heavy industry complex at Taxila.

Majs.Gen.Nusrat Naeem and Asif Akhtar have been superseded. They have been allowed to continue till their superannuation as Majs.Gen., but it is not known whether they will continue in the ISI or will be shifted out. Among other superseded Majs-Gen  is Mohammad Saddique, who used to be in the National Accountability Bureau and was handling the corruption cases against Benazir Bhutto and Zardari.

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Gen.Kayani will have in the important posts of the CGS, the DG,ISI,  and Corps Commander, Rawalpindi, persons, who owe their promotion as Lts.Gen. to him and not to Musharraf. The CGS, the DG ISI and the Corps Commander Rawalpindi constitute an informal triumvirate without whom, according to conventional wisdom, no COAS can stage a coup. The persons appointed to these posts as well as to the post of the DGMO are generally viewed as confirmed loyalists of the COAS.

 Lt.Gen.Nadeen Taj, who is distantly related to Musharraf, served as the DG ISI for less than a year. He took over as the DG, ISI, on October 8, 2007,after his promotion to the rank of Lt.Gen. Till then, he served as the Commandant, Pakistan Military Academy, with the rank of Maj.Gen.

Lt.Gen.Pasha, who was promoted from the rank of  Brigadier to that of Maj.Gen. by Musharraf in January, 2003, is due to retire on September 29, 2012. He has commanded an infantry brigade, a mechanised infantry brigade and an infantry division  and has served as the Chief Instructor of the Command and Staff College.

In 2001-2002, as a Brigadier, he served as a Contingent and Sector Commander with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone.  In October,2007, Musharraf agreed to a request from  Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, to relieve Pasha from the post of the DGMO so that he could be appointed as  the  Military Adviser, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in the UN headquarters, in place of  General Per Arne Five of Norway. An announcement on his posting in the UN headquarters was also made by the office of the UN Secretary-General.

 But, this posting did not materialise. In view of the Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) coming under the control of the Taliban-affiliated Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi  (TNSM) headed by Maulana Fazlullah, Musharraf ordered a special military operation against the TNSM and asked Pasha in his capacity as the DGMO to co-ordinate it.

Pasha got Sufi Mohammad, former chief of the TNSM, who was in detention since 2002, released and sought his help in the operation. In January,2008, Pasha announced that his troops had defeated the TNSM and freed the Swat Valley from the control of the TNSM. His claim came to haunt him shortly thereafter when the TNSM, which had withdrawn into the hills, staged a comeback and reestablished its control over large areas of the Swat.

Fighting there is still going on. In August,2008, shortly after the return of Gilani from a visit to Washington DC, Gen.Kayani ordered another special operation against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and asked Pasha to co-ordinate it too. Despite repeated claims of the Army having inflicted heavy casualties on the TTP and Al Qaeda, the two have been putting up a determined fight against the Army and the Frontier Corps .

The Dawn of Karachi reported on September 29 as follows: "Military operations against militants have been a mixed bag of successes and setbacks; however no timeframe could be given with regard to the ongoing campaigns, sources in the military said. 'It is a continual operation. It is not going to end in 2008 and it is not going to end in 2009. Don't be optimistic, as far as the timeframe is concerned. It is a different ground and it will take some time', military sources said in a media briefing."

Thus, as the DGMO, Pasha has had a colourless record. That, despite this, he has been posted as the DG,ISI, shows his closeness and loyalty to Kayani, who had taken him for his secret meeting with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board a US Aircraft Carrier, on August 26,2008, and not Lt.Gen.Nadeem Taj.

The removal of Nadeem Taj has come in the wake of reports about US concerns and unhappiness over the alleged role of the ISI in the attempt to blow up the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7,2008, and over leakage of information shared by the US intelligence with the ISI to the Taliban. President Bush was reported to have taken up this matter with Prime Minister Gilani, when he visited Washington DC in the last week of July as well as with Zardari whom he met in the margins of the current  UN General Assembly session.

While removing Taj from the post of DG,ISI, Kayani has taken care not to create a feeling of humiliation in him by posting him as the Commander of an important Corps, but as the Corps Commander at Gujranwala he will not have much to do with Afghanistan or the ongoing military operations in the tribal belt. Kayani has removed him from any role in the operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The removal of Taj from the ISI has also come in the wake of reports of Chinese unhappiness as expressed to Kayani during his week-long visit to China from September 21,2008, over the lack of a sense of urgency shown by the ISI in rescuing the two Chinese engineers kidnapped by the TTP on August 29. They were working for a Chinese cellular company in the Dir area of the NWFP. The TTP kidnapped them while they were travelling and removed them to the Swat valley. The TTP has been demanding the release  of over 130 Taliban members presently in the custody of the Pakistani security agencies in return for their release.

The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad and Chinese engineers working in Pakistan have also been reportedly expressing their unhappiness over the lack of a sense of urgency shown by the Gilani Government as a whole in getting the Chinese engineers released.

They have been pointing out as to how Musharraf always gave the first priority to requests from China for assistance and to the commando action ordered by him on the Lal Masjid of Islamabad when some of the students, including Uighurs, in the madrasas of the masjid, kidnapped some Chinese women working in Islamabad, and comparing this to the lethargic response of Gilani and Zardari. They feel that Gilani and Zardari have been giving a greater importance to US interests and concerns  than to  those of the Chinese.

In a report on the subject carried by the News on September 24, 2008, Rahimullah Yusufzai, the well-informed Pakistani journalist, said as follows: "A Chinese journalist, who requested anonymity, said the Pakistan Government hasn't shown any urgency in getting the two young engineers freed. He recalled how the issue of the two Chinese engineers kidnapped by late Pakistani Taliban commander Abdullah Mahsud's men in South Waziristan in 2004 was resolved within a few days. The recent case of kidnapping of Chinese engineers hasn't been resolved even after more than three weeks. We were hoping our citizens would have been freed by now, he said."

Before his election as the President, Zardari stated that his first official visit as the President would be to China to underline the importance attached by him to Pakistan's relations with China. He did not keep his word and instead went on a private visit to the United Arab Emirates and the UK and then on an official visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session. Pakistani officials have been explaining this by claiming that his visit to New York was not a bilateral visit to the US and that his first official bilateral visit would still be to China.

B Raman