ISI chief likely to get second extension

Islamabad: ISI head Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a close aide of Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is heading for a likely rare second term.

The new two-year extension to Kayani`s favourite General is sought to be given citing serious internal and external security challenges faced by the country, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Pasha, who was given a year-long extension last year, is set to retire on March 18.

ISI chief`s new extension will come on the heels of an unprecedented three-year extension given to his chief Kayani.

The daily quoted sources in the government as saying that Pasha is "likely to get another two years in office as the country faces serious internal and external security challenges".

The decision is likely to be announced before March 18, the report said.

Noting that that it was "very rare" for a Pakistan Army officer to get two extensions, the report said such a move in Pasha`s case would not come as a surprise in view of his close association with Kayani.

The report quoted military sources as saying that one of the reasons for Pasha`s close association with Kayani was that "both shared a moderate nationalist view".

A senior unnamed official said: "He (Pasha) enjoys the full confidence of the chief and is fully committed to fighting religious extremism and militancy".

The case for an extension for Pasha "may also have been strengthened by his ability to get along with the Americans", the report said.

Some analysts contended that with the war in Afghanistan entering a critical phase, the US would like to deal with an ISI chief familiar to them.

US authorities were informed about the "impending decision on General Pasha`s extension several months ago", the report quoted sources as saying.

Increased tension between the ISI and the CIA over the arrest of suspected CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who shot and killed two armed men in Lahore in January, is believed to have reinforced the "thinking that an experienced hand is needed to defuse the situation", the report said.

"Gen Pasha`s familiarity with the issue may be important in dealing with the current tension with the US. The grave challenges faced by the country require continuity in the ISI leadership," said Lt Gen (retired) Talat Masood.

Military sources justified the decision to grant Pasha an extension by saying that there was a "need for continuity of command in view of the ISI`s critical role in combating militancy at home and in dealing with the developing situation in Afghanistan".

However, the report said that along with the PPP-led government, it is Kayani who "will be caught in the controversy that Pasha`s extension can lead to".

Kayani "may find it tough to explain the rationale behind this decision", it added.

"Regardless of the Prime Minister`s signatures on the extension orders, it goes without saying that the decision will be viewed as Gen Kayani`s," the report pointed out.

Those who do not support an extension for Pasha fear such decisions could affect the military`s professionalism.

"Institutions are built by adhering to change and bringing in a new generation of leadership," pointed out Masood.

Pasha was appointed as ISI chief in September 2008 after serving as Director General of Military Operations for several years.

In the earlier role, he supervised the army`s counter- insurgency campaign in the troubled northwest and the tribal belt.

He took over as ISI chief at a time when the agency was being accused by the US and other western allies of playing a "double game".

Pasha, who has a reputation of being a moderate, developed a good rapport with the CIA and other western intelligence agencies despite strained relations at the time between Islamabad and Washington.

Pasha`s appointment in 2008 also signalled some major changes within the ISI.

Besides intelligence gathering, the ISI acts as a "determinant of Pakistan`s foreign policy and a vehicle for its implementation", the report said.

It has also served as an "instrument for promoting the military`s domestic political agenda" and was responsible in the past for "making and breaking civilian governments".

This is one reason why every civilian and military government believes controlling the ISI is crucial to maintaining a firm grip on power, the report said.

It contended that the "all-powerful agency has played by its own rules for some time now".

Though the ISI comes under the Prime Minister, the agency falls directly within the Pakistani military`s chain of command.

The ISI is different from intelligence agencies of other countries that are run by civilians as an overwhelming majority of its officers are military personnel who are rotated in and out for a fixed tenure.

With one exception, all ISI chiefs belonged to the army`s hierarchy.

The ISI has also been expanded hugely over the past 10 years with its new counter-terrorism role, the report said.