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Pakistan's ISI gets a new chief

September 30, 2008 16:14 IST
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Amid intense US pressure to deliver on the war on terror, the chief of Pakistan's powerful Inter Services Intelligence has been shunted out of Islamabad and replaced by Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, considered close to the reform-minded Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj, on the hit list of US for alleged ties to Taliban extremists and militant groups in the Pak-Afghan border, was replaced by Pasha, who was serving as Director General of Military Operations.

An army statement on Monday announced the elevation and appointment of Pasha, said to be close to army chief Kayani, to the sensitive post of Director General of the ISI to replace Taj, who was hand-picked by General Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani President.

Pasha's appointment was approved by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who directly looks after the affairs of the intelligence establishment, The News daily reported.

Pasha has been overseeing Pakistani military operations against insurgents in the country's restive northwest. He had also commanded troops for the UN mission to Sierra Leone in 2001-2002 and was appointed as an adviser on peacekeeping operations by the world body last year.

Taj, a distant relative of Musharraf, has been transferred to head the Gujranwala-based 30 Corps. He was appointed asĀ  head of the ISI in September last year, shortly before Musharraf stepped down as army chief.

The US had been pressing Pakistan hard to replace Taj as late as Sunday night. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly met CIA Director Michael Hayden this weekend in New York. What they discussed specifically is unclear but Hayden reportedly provided Gilani with a proposal for "ISI reform" in July, media reports said.

Interestingly, Taj was with Musharraf when the government of former premier Nawaz Sharif allegedly tried to prevent the aircraft carrying them back to Pakistan from Sri Lanka from landing in Karachi in October 1999. Shortly thereafter, Musharraf deposed Sharif and took power in a military coup.

The US has stepped up pressure for reforms within the ISI after the agency was linked to the July 7 suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed 58 people.

The Bush administration and the US Congress have repeatedly expressed concern that ties between the Pakistani intelligence services and the Taliban have undermined the efforts of the US-led coalition efforts to stem cross-border attacks by Pakistan-based militants.

The sweeping personnel changes in the Pakistan Army involved 14 new appointments, including reshuffle of several corps commanders.

The reshuffle in the army followed the promotion of seven major generals, including Pasha, to the rank of Lieutenant General earlier Monday. The other officers who were promoted are Tahir Mahmood, Shahid Iqbal (all from the infantry), Tanvir Tahir (EME), Zahid Hussain (artillery), Mohammad Mustafa Khan and Ayaz Saleem Rana (armoured corps).

Lt Gen Mohammad Mustafa Khan was appointed Chief of General Staff and Lt Gen Shahid Iqbal the commander of the Karachi-based 5 Corps.

The reshuffle was widely anticipated in the wake of Musharraf's resignation as President last month as army chief Kayani was expected to make changes in the force's hierarchy to bring in a new set of commanders.

Since taking over as army chief, Kayani has distanced the military from politics to focus on combating militancy in Pakistan's restive tribal areas.

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