Great expectations

Will the new ISI chief shape new policies?

Great expectations
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s choice of General Raheel Sharif as chief of army staff, number three on the seniority list but an ‘apolitical general’, has apparently proven useful for democracy in Pakistan. In his second most important decision since coming to power in June 2013, Mr Sharif has promoted Major General Rizwan Akhtar to the rank of Lieutenant General and appointed him the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence, a very important and highly controversial post because of its suspected meddling in politics. Before his appointment as DG ISI, he was the Director General of Rangers in Sindh. Lt Gen Rizwan, believed to be a close ally of Army chief General Raheel Sharif, took over the position from Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam who was ranked by Forbes as 52nd most powerful person in the world in 2013. Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, who was assigned the top intelligence office in March 2012, is set to retire in the first week of October.

Some government officials have recently been accusing the military and the ISI of being behind the current political crisis in order to weaken the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and according to them the outgoing ISI chief was among those pushing for the prime minister’s ouster.

According to the procedure, the army chief recommends a panel of lieutenant generals to the prime minister for the latter to pick the powerful army’s second most important official after the chief. Gen Raheel Sharif held a meeting with Mr Nawaz Sharif the same day and according to reports both agreed on the latest promotions and appointments, particularly that of Gen Rizwan Akhtar.

The army chief did send three names to the premier, unlike Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who sent only one name — Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam — to the PPP government for appointment as the of the ISI in 2012, leaving the government with no other choice, a retired general said. Lt Gen Rizwan’s name was on the top of the list though, the general added. He will assume the charge on November 8.

[quote]"There are certain areas that belong to the army and many other areas that belong to the civilian government"[/quote]

Lt Gen Rizwan, who was commissioned in the army in Frontier Force Regiment in September 1982, is a graduate of Command and Staff College Quetta, National Defense University Islamabad and US Army War College in Pennsylvania as a brigadier in 2008, where he authored a strategy research project report titled ‘US-Pakistan trust deficit and the war on terror’. In the report he stressed the need to improve relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, saying Pakistan “must aggressively pursue rapprochement with India.” He commanded an Infantry Brigade and Division in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas.

Karachi, where he had his last assignment, is the “microcosm of all the problems Pakistan has, in terms of terrorism, drug trafficking, ethnic and sectarian issues,” Lt Gen (r) Talat Masood said.

An ISPR statement said five other major generals, Maj Gen Hidayatur Rehman, Maj Gen Naveed Mukhtar, Maj Gen Mian Muhammad Hilal Hussain, Maj Gen Ghayur Mahmood and Maj Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt, have been promoted to lieutenant generals.

Lt General Hidayatur Rehman, most recently Chief instructor at the National Defence University in Islamabad, has been appointed Corps Commander in Peshawar, Lt General Naveed Mukhtar, who was serving in ISI, has been made Corps Commander Karachi, Lt General Hilal Hussain, previously Director General of Military Training at GHQ, is the new Corps Commander of Mangla, Lt General Ghayur Mahmood, most recently serving as Vice Chief of General Staff at General Headquarters, has been made Corps Commander Gujranwala, and Lt General Nazir Butt, who was Commandant of Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, has been appointed as Inspector General of Communications and Information Technology at the GHQ.

The four lieutenant generals who are scheduled to retire from service are Mangla Corps Commander Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Gujranwala Corps Commander Lt Gen Saleem Nawaz, Peshawar Corps Commander Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani and Karachi Corps Commander Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani.

According to defense experts, there has been a sea change in the thinking of the army especially in the top hierarchy. They are less interested in toppling an elected government now, and Mr Sharif was assured that there will be no coup, but according to some reports, the prime minster, in return, has compromised on certain security and foreign policy matters.

“There are certain areas that belong to the army and there are many other areas that must belong to the civilian government,” Major General (rtd) Khalid Naeem said. “It happens even in the US, sometimes Pentagon wins sometimes the state department does.”

Defense experts believe the new spymaster does not have political ambitions and will play a key role in shaping policies for a spy agency that is traditionally perceived as anti-India and has a controversial role in making and breaking governments.