The PM of Pakistan appointed a new general to run the country’s most powerful intelligence agency on March 9, 2012, signaling an important change in the military leadership at a pivotal moment in relations with theUnited States.
Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam will take over as the director general of the ISI on March 18, replacing Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who has held the post since 2008 and was given two extensions.
The ISI chief is the second most powerful figure in the military — some would argue in the country — and General Islam is likely to play a significant role in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, a movement the ISI has long been accused of supporting.
Although the ISI officially reports to the PM, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, with whom General Pasha had a close relationship during the agency’s turbulent relationship with the United States in recent years.
Belonging to 13-Punjab (Infantry), Lt Gen Zaheer-ul Islam was promoted to the present rank in 2011 and shifted to Karachi as Commander 5-Corps, considered a plum posting and a sign of his good standing with General Kayani. From 2008 to 2010 he served as director of the ISI section responsible for internal security. He also served as Chief of Staff in the Army Strategic Force Command.
Gen Zaheer is known in military circles as an honest, hardworking and upright person.
His appointment marks a clear shift in the thinking of the military and civilian leadership in the sense that he has no connections, whatsoever, with the Americans unlike Pasha who had a large circle of American friends and those regarded as Americanised. Zaheer has a crystal-clear career with no American connections or background,” said one of Gen Islam’s friends.
He’s pretty media savvy — which is what they need right now.
He hails from Kahuta (Murree) where he served as GOC during the Musharraf era.
His father retired as a colonel and his brothers – Azhar-ul Islam, Fakhar-ul Islam and Mazhar-ul Islam ñ also retired as military officers, as did his brother-in-law.
General Islam’s first job is likely to involve refashioning relations with Washington, which have been virtually frozen since an erroneous American attack near the border with Afghanistan in November killed 24 Pakistani troops.
The very next day after his appointment, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) had to rebuff a Time of India report about relations between the new DG ISI and Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan.
According to the report Zahir-ul-Islam is the nephew of Indian National Army hero Shah Nawaz Khan and Shahrukh Khan’s late mother Lateef Fatima was the adopted daughter of Shah Nawaz.
Director-General Rangers, Sindh, Lt Gen Ijaz Chaudhry, has been shifted to Karachi as Commander 5-Corps while Maj Gen Rizwan Akhtar, GOC 9-Div, Peshawar, will succeed Lt Gen Ijaz Chaudhry as DG Rangers, Sindh.
Gen Zaheer-ul Islam’s appointment is critical from three aspects: the expected thaw in Pak-US relations and the Afghan situation; Pakistan entering into election year with a lot of polarisation; and deep-seated tension between the civil and military leadership.
In Lt Gen Zaheer’s appointment as DG ISI, Army chief General Kayani got his trusted person to head the elite intelligence organisation, though Lt Gen Pasha too enjoyed his full confidence and often used to talk to the Americans on behalf of the army chief, and served as a kind of interlocutor during a period of tense military-to-military relations between Pakistan and the United States.
General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani had sent a list of 3-star generals to the government with the request to appoint one of them as DG ISI. The list included the names of Lt Gen Zaheer-ul Islam, Lt Gen Rashid, commander 4-corps – Lahore and Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, commander 30 corps – Gujranwala.
Defence secretary Nargis Sethi asked for a full list of all 3-star generals so that the PM could have an overview of the careers of all such officers before picking up one for the slot.
It was this development that resulted in a meeting between the president, the PM and the army chief where the latter requested the government to pick one from the list he has sent to the defence ministry. In this regard the statement recently made by defence minister Ch Ahmed Mukhtar is being quoted as proof. Mukhtar had told the press that the PM has the right to choose the new DG ISI.
Lt Gen Islam, who is coming from Karachi, will head the team of two other major generals in the ISI who also came to the ISI directly after serving in Karachi – Maj Gen Asfandyar Patudi (former GOC in Karachi) and Maj Gen Arif Warriach (former sector commander ISI in Karachi as Brigadier.