Director General of ISI Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, who was appointed as the spy chief in March 2012, retires on Nov 7, 2014.

An extension for Gen Islam was never considered and the military never asked for it.

Speculation was thus rife on the next man who will hold the position called DG ISI. With the control that the head of the ISI enjoys on intelligence gathering within the country and the role the agency has played in Pakistani politics, the filling of the post generally attracts considerable attention. And at the present juncture, the charge that ISI is playing a role in instigating the dharnas and the general state of the civil-military relations has added to the interest in Gen Islam’s successor.

Gen Rizwan AkhtarOn September 22, the Nawaz Sharif government appointed Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar as next chief of the ISI. He will take charge when his predecessor Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam retires on Nov 7. The new ISI director general was named by the PM on the recommendation of Chief of the Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif in accordance with a set procedure for appointment to this position.

The two met following the announcement of the new ISI chief.

Lt Gen Rizwan’s posting did not come as a surprise because he was long tipped for this position. Prior to the appointment, he was promoted as a three-star general. He was previously heading Sindh Rangers as a two-star general. He was posted as director general of Sindh Rangers in March 2012 and during his tenure he oversaw the Karachi operation that met with mixed results.

Maj Gen Bilal Akbar will replace him as DG Rangers.

Gen Rizwan’s parent regiment is Frontier Force. He remained General Officer Commanding in South Waziristan from 2010 to 2012. His postings in Karachi and South Waziristan provide him a good background in counter-terrorism which is currently the focus of ISI.

Gen Sharif picked a relatively younger general to head the ISI.

With Gen Rizwan’s appointment as the next ISI chief and other promotions/postings — most of which were crucial — Gen Sharif is said to be consolidating his position. But former military spokesman retired Maj Gen Ather Abbas believes otherwise. “It will be wrong to assume that all of the promoted generals were chief’s men, it’s rather an indication of a functioning system. The promotions show that they were made on the basis of merit and performance,” he said. According to the procedure, the army chief recommends a panel of lieutenant generals to the PM for the latter to make the final choice.

Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam DG ISI 2011 14However, at least once in the recent past, only one name was sent to the PM. In 2012, the then army chief retired Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani sent only one name — Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam — to the PPP government for appointment as the ISI chief, not allowing the government any choice. The government, which was recovering from the memogate controversy, accepted Mr Kayani’s proposal without resistance. And while this time around the appointment took place against the backdrop of another political crisis, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif is not Kayani and PM Sharif does not appear to be as willing to acquiesce as the PPP government then did.

Why Rizwan?

Those who keep an eye on military affairs suggest that the army chief considered issues such as retirement date, experience of intelligence operations and political inclinations.

Gen Sharif, who has over two years in office, may have wanted an ISI chief who will last as long as his own tenure. This is perhaps the reason that eight lieutenant generals were not considered.

Analysts suggest that the army chief, who does not have much intelligence experience, may have desired an ISI chief who is well versed with the system and can adequately assist him in intelligence matters.

Even though DG ISI technically works under the PM and is supposed to directly report to him, the army chief has traditionally been the spymaster’s de facto boss.

Gen Sharif would want a loyalist in office, while PM Sharif may also be looking for one.

Extrapolating from this, it can be said that Gen Sharif preferred a politically neutral officer. Any suggestion or hints of what the government may prefer would not have helped that particular officer; in fact, it may just have killed his chances altogether.

Additionally, Gen Sharif perhaps looked for someone he could trust and this may be someone he had promoted himself.  Gen Sharif has already given some important posts to younger generals — the appointment of Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Ashfaq Nadeem is a case in point.

Former ISI, chief retired Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, was given the ISI assignment immediately after his elevation from major general to lieutenant general.

Five Promotions

In addition to a new DG ISI, five officers were promoted to the rank of lieutenant generals to fill the vacancies created by the retirement of five lieutenant generals on Oct 1. Major generals who have been promoted to the next rank are: Maj Gen Mian Muhammad Hilal Hussain, Maj Gen Ghayur Mahmood, Maj Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt, Maj Gen Naveed Mukhtar and Maj Gen Hidayatur Rehman.

Their postings were announced the same day to avoid speculations.

New Corp Commanders

Gen Hidayat, the first general officer from Northern Areas, was posted as Corps Commander Peshawar, Gen Naveed Mukhtar as Corps Commander Karachi, Gen Hilal Hussain as Corps Commander Mangla, Gen Ghayur as Corps Commander Gujranwala and Gen Nazir Butt as Inspector General of C&IT Branch at the GHQ.

This was the second but most significant reshuffle by Gen Sharif after he became the army chief in late 2013. He looked to be making a fresh start by posting the newly promoted generals to all positions falling vacant in October/November instead of moving some of the senior lieutenant generals in the ranks.

The second aspect of the promotions is that most of the generals bring with them fresh experience of fighting terrorism.

Gen Hidayat has previously commanded brigades in Khyber Agency and North Waziristan. He will take over from Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani who retired on Oct 2.

Gen Naveed Mukhtar was heading the ISI’s counter-terrorism wing. His appointment reflects the army’s desire to concentrate on fighting terrorism in Karachi which is rapidly getting entangled in Taliban and Al Qaeda tentacles.  Gen Mukhtar, before his ISI posting, commanded brigade in South Waziristan and remained posted in operations directorate. He will take over from Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani who retires on Oct 25.

Gen Hilal Hussain will succeed Lt Gen Tariq Khan at Mangla Corps, which is the strike corps. Gen Khan, well known for his contributions in the war on terror, retires on Oct 2.

Gen Ghayur, who as General Officer Commanding in North Waziristan stirred a controversy in 2011 for publicly acknowledging effectiveness of US drones in the fight against militants when the official policy was to condemn the drone strikes, will replace Lt Gen Saleem Nawaz upon his retirement on Nov 20. Gen Ghayur was currently posted as vice chief of general staff.

Gen Nazir Butt has earlier served as commandant Pakistan Military Academy.


Besides Gen Islam, the other four who will hang up their uniforms on Oct 1 are Lt Gen Tariq Khan, corps commander of Mangla; Lt Gen Saleem Nawaz, corps commander of Gujranwala; Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani, corps commander of Peshawar; and Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani, corps commander of Karachi.