Yusuf Raza Gilani, prime minister of Pakistan, has named a new chief for the country’s controversial and powerful intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
The current spy boss, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, will be replaced upon his March 18 retirement by Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, the army’s corps commander for Karachi.
Islam formerly served as deputy director general of ISI.
The appointment of Islam ends speculation that Pasha’s term might be extended -- a move that would have been criticized by opposition politicians. The climate between Pakistan’s civilian government and military-intelligence establishment has become badly frayed over the past year, driven by suspicions that President Asif Ali Zardari plotted to weaken the power of the military and spy agency in exchange for help from the U.S. government to thwart a possible coup.
Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper, speculated that Pasha's departure would be welcomed by the United States.
Pasha ran ISI for 3 1/2 years, a period that included U.S. forces' assassination of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and growing suspicions that senior officials in both ISI and Pakistan's military were well aware of his presence in the country.
Pasha was criticized by Pakistani government officials for allowing the U.S. military to conduct its secret raid without his knowledge. Following the commando assault on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pasha offered to resign but was allowed to stay in his job.
In 2008, during the first month of Pasha’s tenure, Pakistani militants launched a terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed about 170 people. India blamed that atrocity on the militant Pakistani organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is allegedly linked to ISI.
Pasha had been expected to retire in March 2010, but Gilani granted him two 12-month extensions. The former ISI chief also enjoyed close relations with the most powerful figure in Pakistan’s military, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.