Spy Master Caught In Between The Lines

Spy Master Caught In Between The Lines

It sounds logical to get your vital security positions re-arranged in a way as to avert unnecessary bother when two or more of them expire their tenures all at the same time or follow one after the other in the immediate run. Therefore, one should not read anything more than this logic when a new ISI chief is appointed replacing before time the incumbent whose tenure if allowed to run the normal course would expire only a few months earlier (April, 2022) than that of the incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

More so, when the incumbent ISI chief (who has overseen during his just concluded term the sea changes that had occurred in the security arrangements in the neighbouring Afghanistan), is given the command of Peshawar Corps which is located next to the war torn country.

But of course, this particular Corps appointment could also mean that one vital gap in the service of the incumbent ISI chief is being bridged to render him properly qualified for the post of COAS when it is time to replace the incumbent COAS. But that is called reading too much in the new appointment which ostensibly is being demanded by the logic of circumstances. Because, if it is true then the Army hierarchy itself or the Prime Minister on his own or both have made up their minds as to who would be the next COAS when the incumbent retires sometime in November next year.

And if that is what is being planned then the time between now and November next year – almost 12 long months – would surely be seeing a lot of jostling at the Corps Commanders’ level which under normal circumstances is not being seen as healthy for the Institution itself. Nor is it healthy if the posting has been desired by the PM with the Army hierarchy having no option is tagging along rather unwillingly. If this is what is happening then one cannot rule out the possibility of the one-page mantra getting its first vital hit. And the page would still take a big hit if it is the Army hierarchy that wants to transfer Hameed to Peshawar Corps while the PM would like him to continue in the current position.

Either way it is not going to be a conducive development, if at all that is what is happening at a time when the country is passing through a period of extreme vulnerability both internally as well as externally.

Internally, the country is suffering from extreme political polarisation. So much so that the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition have remained incommunicado all through the last three years. And the government has been resorting increasingly to issuing Presidential Ordinances to govern the country. Parliament seems to have been rendered totally dysfunctional. Media is selectively gagged. And the Judiciary has by and large remained tentative.

The incumbent Chief Spy master has played a bigger than life role in the domestic politics and it was felt at the highest level that he needed to be cast out for the good of both the civilian as well as security interests

Externally, Pakistan is facing a vastly disrupted neighbourhood with Afghanistan being ruled by Afghan Taliban who are too deficient in administrative reach and also lack governing skills. At the same time Pakistan’s relations with the US is seemingly undergoing a sea change for the worse which though had never been more than transactional does not bode well to be unhinged from its recent Non-NATO ally role to one that looks like an outcast.

There could be another more compelling reason for removing Lt. General Faiz Hameed from his ISI post. The incumbent Chief Spy master has played a bigger than life role in the domestic politics and it was felt at the highest level that he needed to be cast out for the good of both the civilian as well as security interests.

It is no secret that the agencies have been actively involved in political affairs in the past. The formation of the IJI, a political alliance cobbled together after the death of military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq, was the handiwork of such agencies and this has now been officially acknowledged in the Supreme Court. The agencies continue to shape and influence matters that are outside their official purview.

Some believe Hameed was instrumental in Imran’s ‘selection’ in the 2018 elections. He was also said to be instrumental in the rise of the Barelvi extremist party Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan which was supposed to cut into the votes of PMLN, he is also being blamed to have ensured that the election transmission system RTS crashed which made it easy to rig the election results.

He was first spotted by the media and the judiciary at the time of Faizabad Dharna event in November 2017. He was the one who is said to have guided the negotiations between the then PMLN government and the TLP and had the former sign a virtual surrender document carrying Hameed’s signature as the guarantor. This role of his has been in disparaging language during the hearing of the TLP dharna case in the court of Justice Qazi Faez Isa which was probably the reason why the overseas properties of Qazi Isa’s wife later came under the scrutiny of the superior courts by way of teaching a lesson to Justice Isa for his negative remarks to the effect in his judgment in the dharna case. Also, High Court Judge Shaukat Siddiqui lost his job ostensibly because he had publicly accused Hameed of trying to influence the judiciary.

Punjab Rangers Director General (DG) Azhar Naveed Hayat, who was charged with clearing and handling the sit-in by the federal government, later distributed cash envelopes among the protesters. A video clip showing the DG Rangers distributing money among the protesters went viral on social media with people questioning the act.

Police officials present at the time told reporters that the protesters had been given Rs1, 000 in cash each so that they could return to their homes.

Gen Hameed’s visit to Kabul on September 4, weeks after the Taliban takeover, has also led to renewed allegations about Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. People came to know about his trip after he was spotted having tea with Pakistani envoy at a Kabul hotel where many foreign journalists were staying. Gen Hameed had on that occasion responded to a journalist’s question about future of Afghanistan, saying: “Don’t worry, everything will be okay.”

What, however, is most intriguing is the decision of PMLN’s Maryam Nawaz Sharif to file at this juncture a petition in which she has dragged in Hameed, who has already been accused of trying to influence judiciary to convict Nawaz Sharif. Is it the beginning of the end?

The writer is a senior journalist