Its official, Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha, the all powerful chief of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is to get a second extension. Pakistan’s Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar announced to the press that Pasha’s services would be extended just a few days before he is due to retire on 18 March. Pasha’s qualifications ostensibly seem to be his experience in facing the challenges of terrorism faced by Pakistan and the trust of American intelligence agency the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Pasha’s extension however raises serious questions over either lack of talent or trust in the hierarchy of the Pakistan Army.
Looking at Pasha first, he was appointed as the ISI Chief side stepping from the military operations directorate of the Army in September 2008. Reportedly he was considered more reliable than his predecessor Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj by the Americans. Pasha is known to be indispensable to the Pakistan Army before as well as despite being selected as the Military Adviser to the Secretary General at the United Nations he could not be spared as he was the Director General Military Operations. While not questioning his competence, was no other Pakistan general fit enough to fit Pasha’s shoes in the military operations directorate remains a moot question.
What is also to note is that the Americans seem to continue to trust General Pasha despite the Raymond Davis affair which had led to differences with then Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Qureshi, While Qureshi lost his job; Pasha seems to have retained faith of the Americans. Raymond Davis is alleged to have killed two Pakistani citizens in self defence and is being held in custody even as US has put pressure on Islamabad to release him as he is claimed to have diplomatic immunity. Pasha was reportedly in the meeting where Mr. Qureshi expressed his disapproval. That he is surviving is either because he took a contrarian view to Mr. Qureshi or may be intelligently kept quiet even though the ISI was clearly aware that Davis was linked to the CIA.
The extension granted to Lt Gen Shuja Pasha who has been placed in the hot seat of the ISI when seen in the light of the one to General Kiyani for three years up to 2013 would no doubt ensure that there is continuity in the ongoing counter militancy and terrorism operations in the country. However the argument goes against military logic as a change and varied perspective to conflict situations is a better option rather than carrying on with old war horses especially as the terrorist attacks across Pakistan continue. In last week alone, there were two suicide attacks over 70, one in the tribal areas and another in Punjab. Given that General Kiyani is on six year tenure already a new ISI chief would have provided continuity with change, obviously this is not the option that has been exercised, so we see, “more of the same thing,” as the phrase goes.
There are other concerns as well, that of concentration of power in individuals for too long a period thereby leading to abuse. The Pakistan Army’s record of extension of tenures to the Chiefs either by the political leadership or self awarded as by General Pervez Musharraf as the President is notable. In the last decade plus there have been only two Army Chiefs in Pakistan, Musharraf and Kiyani. During the same period the Indian Army has seen six Army Chiefs when it has faced one limited war with Pakistan in 1999 in Kargil and an operational stand off in 2002, Operation Parakaram. Involved in militancy from Jammu and Kashmir to the North East the situation has been acknowledged to be ripe for political resolutions be it in Srinagar or in Guwahati. Thus the benefits of an institutional turn over are evident.
Is there then a lack of talent in the Pakistan Army’s top hierarchy that generals as Kiyani or Pasha are indispensable? If that is a surmise it would be a dangerous one for a force of over 600,000 and having one of the largest armoury of nuclear weapons relying on a few individuals would be disconcerting to say the least.
The other issue of major concern is the lack is trust in the Pakistani military hierarchy. Do the Americans trust only a few generals to hold the higher positions? All these are certainly questions which need to be raised?
What is clear however is that with Pasha in the chair, on the policy front as it affects Af Pak there is unlikely to be any change. The Pakistanis will wait a NATO pull out to reassert presence in Kabul. For this General Pasha with his contacts down the militant hierarchy would be useful. Thus while NATO and the CIA may be comfortable with dealing with General Pasha the long term consequences of the same have obviously been ignored.