The Pakistani military appointed Lt. Gen. Ahmef Shujaa Pasha as the new head of the ISI intelligence agency. The move is part of a shakeup of top military brass following the appointment of Ashfaq Kayani (right) as Pakistan’s military chief.
Pakistan has appointed a new head of its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, amid US accusations that the military spy organisation secretly backs Taliban rebels on the Afghan border.
Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, formerly head of military operations, was named director general of the ISI late Monday, a terse military statement announced. He replaces Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj.
The move is part of a major shake-up of the army's top brass after US, Afghan and Indian officials alleged in recent months that the shadowy organisation was complicit in the Taliban insurgency wracking the region.
Pasha is considered to be a close aide to the relatively reformist Pakistani military chief Ashfaq Kayani, who ran the ISI until October 2007. Taj, by contrast, was a key lieutenant of former president Pervez Musharraf.
The army insisted the 14 new appointments announced on Monday were routine.
"These were the changes due over a period of time. This is how the system works in the army," chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.
But movements in Pakistan's military and intelligence services are closely watched by the United States and other allies for signs of the nuclear-armed nation's stability and commitment to the "war on terror".
"The change comes at a time when there was a lot of talk about ISI in the Western media," security analyst Talat Masood, a retired Pakistan army general, told AFP.
"With the new ISI chief, General Kayani has completed a team of his choice. He will be able to now lead the army with greater confidence."
In his previous job, Pasha was responsible for military offensives against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan and the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
The ISI has helped capture or kill hundreds of senior Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan since Musharraf joined the "war on terror" in 2001, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed 9/11 mastermind.
But many Western officials suspect that, having helped to create Afghanistan's hardline 1996-2001 Taliban regime, the organisation is still playing a double game.
In August, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, US General David D. McKiernan, told AFP there "certainly is a level of ISI complicity" in Taliban militancy along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Whether US forces should strike militant targets in Pakistan if the ISI and other agencies fail to do so has become an issue in the US election race, with Democratic candidate Barack Obama backing such attacks.
Afghanistan, which is supposed to be Pakistan's ally against extremism, and India, Islamabad's historic foe, accused the ISI of involvement in the deadly bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July.
Pakistan strongly denies any such links, although Musharraf admitted in 2006 that some retired Pakistani intelligence officers may have been abetting extremists.
The ISI is feared at home as it plays a central, although covert, political role in a country that has spent more than half of its 61-year history under military rule.
The change in the ISI comes after the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, tried to put the elite agency under the control of the interior ministry in July.
That move was hastily withdrawn after a protest by Pakistan's powerful military establishment.
In theory ISI works under the control of the prime minister, but in practice its functions are mainly run by Pakistan's pervasive security set-up.
Date created : 2008-09-30