Zaheer-ul Islam handled domestic, counter-intelligence issues

Ending weeks of speculation, the government on Friday announced the appointment of Karachi Corps Commander Zaheer-ul Islam as the ISI Director-General. He will replace Ahmad Shuja Pasha who is due to retire on March 18 after a three-and-a-half-year stint at what is regarded as one of the most powerful offices in the country, second only to that of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

The announcement was made in the evening with a brief statement from the Prime Minister's Secretariat. There was no word on Lieutenant-General Pasha's future assignment though there has been speculation of the outgoing DG — who is on extension — being made head of the Strategic Plans Division, which is in charge of the management and administration of the country's nuclear weapons stockpile.

Lieutenant-General Islam is also an infantry man like COAS Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lieutenant-General Pasha. He has served in the ISI in the past as a two-star general in the post of Deputy Director General and had then apparently dealt with domestic and counter-intelligence issues.

The change of guard takes place at a time when the role of the ISI in Pakistan's domestic politics is under the scanner with the Supreme Court hearing a 1996-vintage petition. In the petition, a former Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, Asghar Khan, accused the ISI of financing several politicians — including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — during the 1990 elections to form the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad and prevent the Pakistan People's Party from winning the polls.

The ongoing hearings have disclosed that Rs.340 million was distributed to various politicians and journalists by then ISI DG Asad Durrani on the instructions of the then President and COAS, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mirza Aslam Baig respectively.

Since the U.S. raid to take out al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2012, the ISI — primarily a much feared organisation that is referred to in hush-hush terms — has been openly questioned for successive intelligence failures and attempts to manipulate Pakistan's politics besides the growing number of disappearances of people from Balochistan and Sindh.

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