Cost Of A Cup Of Tea: When Flamboyant Spymasters Outlast Their Strategic Relevance

Cost Of A Cup Of Tea: When Flamboyant Spymasters Outlast Their Strategic Relevance
“If a man cannot keep a measly affair secret, what is he doing in charge of the Intelligence Service?” (Frederick Forsyth on British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook)

In Pakistan’s case, measly may be replaced by meaningful: who holds the reins? To find out, let’s delve into two intelligence chiefs whose policies have been comparably similar – and likewise their names!

As soon as the Taliban ascendancy at Kabul followed by the pictorial splash of the intelligence chief, the media – chiefly social media – was abuzz with pronouncements of a ‘rebound’ of the front-runner with occasioned alliteration: “Hameed to Hameed”: one being a man of words, proud to be called 'victor' of Jalalabad, alongside the latter, a man of gestures, cherishing a ‘buildup’ with tea in hand at a Kabul hotel. Besides the proclaimed feats and exploits inside and out, both tend to count on expression and ostentation besides being the heads of the agencies that are supposed – in name and work alike – to go about maintaining secrecy and seclusion.

It comes as a big surprise that like General Hameed Gul, General Faiz Hameed is also relieved from the most coveted slot after army chief when seemed to be at his peak and ‘popular’ with respect to the peculiar aspects. The outgoing DG has now been posted as Corps Commander, Peshawar, and though the well-wishers, backers and some analysts still see the reshuffle as the ‘necessity’ for a possible elevation to COAS in future; yet, in line with General Gul, that jump looks remote.

At the close of the Aghan-Soviet war, General Hameed Gul was promoted as DG ISI in place of General Akhtar Abdur Rehman who was at the helm providing the conduit of Mujahideen from all over the world and warfare to fight against the USSR. Cool, calm, and collected, Akhtar swung the state intelligence network around as one of the most formidable in the world. He was followed by an ambitious Gul who proclaimed himself the hero of the Afghan war and was supposed to carry the pan-Islamism flag. In carrying the flag within after the Afghan war, General Hameed Gul publicly accepted forming Islami Jamhuri Itehad (IJI) to prevent Benazir Bhutto and a relatively leftist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) coming into power. The then Benazir government could ill-afford having Gul as ISI chief – somewhat unlike General Faiz who is purportedly aligned with the incumbent government.
With approximately three decades in between them, Generals Hameed Gul and Faiz Hameed were at the helm of affairs in wrapping up their respective Afghan wars

General Faiz first caught the eye in dealing with the Faizabad dherna of TLP and was soon rapidly perceived as the ‘leading-man' in creating a hybrid form of government in the country. Since Nawaz Sharif's removal as PM, the pro-Nawaz faction of the party has accused General Faiz of all the hardships the party has faced, claiming his role all the way from ousting them from government to orchestrating the cases against Sharif family. That narrative is present even in the fresh appeal filed by Maryam Nawaz just a day before the change of guard for DG ISI.

Not just in Pakistan, the intelligence agencies of any country with an over-arching military are equipped and ‘covered’ to manipulate and control. These agencies may attempt to direct, infiltrate, manipulate and warp various segments in name of protecting and securing the state. Yet, mostly the role of the undercover agencies is generally covert and placed at the back-burner – at least as a perception. But, with an ineffective parliament, impotent opposition, coerced media, and far-reaching influence since the Soviet-Afghan war, the secret agencies here could be declared as " front-line" players – and their words and gestures have been imparted a special level of political meaning.

Pakistan could have afforded to celebrate the exit of the Indian-backed government in Afghanistan and the prospect of 'securing' its Western border but the haste in siding with the Taliban – particularly the spy chief's immediate demonstration – has opened the flood gate of international blame to Pakistan. Though the PM had also implied a similar approach by pronouncing Afghanistan's new dispensation as "breaking of shackles of slavery," Pakistan should have known that any immediate visitation like this after the Kabul fall would be akin to handing over a knife to the butcher willing to scapegoat Pakistan.

Though General Faiz was always perceived to be valuable for PTI's ascendency, it seems even a hybrid government and supposed beneficiary seemed unable to withstand the international pressure.

With approximately three decades in between them, Generals Hameed Gul and Faiz Hameed were at the helm of affairs in wrapping up their respective Afghan wars. The common ally had always been the USA. As Uncle Sam chose to avert his eyes on each occasion following pack-ups, that carried the signal that no more ambitious and anxious undercover chiefs were needed here. They would be simply too conspicuous – externally for the world, and internally for the government.

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