SHIFTED SPY CHIEF COULD YET HEAD PAK ARMY
The Chief’s appointment is always a big event in Pakistan where the army wields
‘real’ power despite the country’s civilian and democratic professions. But
occasionally, the second-most important post, that of the Director General,
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), also signals key developments well beyond the
military, into politics and diplomacy.
All military appointments in Pakistan are closely guarded secrets and when they
occur, are officially called ‘routine.’ However, the ‘routine’ transfer of Lt. Gen.
Faiz Hameed from the post of DG, ISI to the Corps Commander, Peshawar, was
known days in advance and was subject of intense diplomatic and political
It also made ‘news’ in several world capitals after Gen. Hameed was on a highprofile visit to Kabul last month. All accounts point to his having patched up
differences between the so-called moderate Taliban, mainly those who
negotiated the February 2020 Doha Pact and the field commanders whose
military push brought the group to power on August 15.
More importantly, Gen. Hameed was reputed to have ensured that Jalaluddin
Haqqani, head of the Network that works at the ISI’s behest and remains on the
UN’s list of terrorists. Hameed saw him appointed Interior Minister and at least
two other Haqanis got key positions in the interim government.
His presence in Kabul made world news and speculation grew manifold after he
spoke to the media at Serena Hotel. A coffee mug in hand, he assured: “Don’t
worry, everything will be all right.” This high-profile presence was
uncharacteristic for a serving military general on a key political mission in
Hameed is reputed to have been piloted the Taliban through the Doha talks and
in the battlefield across Afghanistan, sending thousands of irregular fighters and
military planners to help the Taliban. Also proscribed, the group seized power in
Kabul on August 15.
Jury is out on Hameed’s military/diplomatic role, as also his helping Prime
Minister Imran Khan in fighting his political opponents, particularly the family of
exiled three-time prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Maryam Nawaz Sharif launched
a broadside against Hameed, naming him repeatedly, in public, hours before he
was shifted out of DG, ISI’s job.
Reports vary whether the current Army Chief, Gen. Qaiser Jawed Bajwa saw
Hameed out, probably he felt he was growing too big for his boots, to even up
with the prime minister, the alleged beneficiary of Hameed’s activities.
At the same time, Hameed has been appointed Commander, 11th Corps,
Peshawar, a position that facilitates his overseeing the Kabul developments
where the Taliban are still at logger-heads and remain shunned by the world
community that refuses to recognise the new regime unless it is made inclusive
of ethnic minorities and allows women to study and work.
Even more important is that the post brings Hameed in line for the top job when
it falls vacant when Bajwa, already on an extension, finally retires in 2022.
Reports are that Bajwa may seek one more extension but even if that does not
happen, Imran Khan, who formally ‘selects’ the Army Chief and the ISI chief from
the panels submitted him, would want to have his say, before he goes for
national elections in the summer of 2023.
Although officially announced by the Army Headquarters, Hameed’s
appointment has yet to receive approval from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Najam Sethi has asked in his editorial in The Friday Times (October 8, 2021):
“Although the transfer was on the cards — because his subsequent professional
ambition depended on commanding a Corps – it was also known that Prime
Minister Imran Khan wanted to hang on to his ISI coattails for as long as possible.
Perhaps this is why there is a buzz about the delay in issuing the notification.
Has Imran Khan changed his mind for some reason? Was there some
misunderstanding between COAS and PM that has led to this confusion? If this
is not sorted out quickly, we could face some serious turbulence.”
Indian analyst Sushant Sareen writes of Hameed: “His sexual indiscretions—he
is believed to have been shot by his wife who discovered his affair with
someone—might well be overlooked by Imran who is himself no spring chicken
when it comes to affairs. But Hameed doesn’t enjoy a good reputation within
his own military fraternity.”
Sethi observes: “it is now speculated that the new DGISI, Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum,
will not be inclined to follow too closely in the political footsteps of his
predecessor for two reasons: one, he is General Bajwa’s nominee rather than
the prime minister’s even though the appointment is supposed to originate in
the PM’s office; two, the army chief means to direct the ISI to pursue his own
objectives and priorities rather than those of the prime minister or General Faiz
The Army Chief’s job, particularly, has rarely gone to the senior-most of the
three-star generals in Pakistan. Each Chief has been ‘selected’ by the prime
minister of the day who, in effect, chooses his own boss, by-passing the seniors.
The personal choices have proved fatal in many cases as the chiefs have turned
against the prime minister, as was he case when Ziaul Haq, superceding five
seniors, deposed Z A Bhutto. Sharif ‘selected’ five Army Chiefs during his
chequered political career and developed differences with all of them. One of
them, Pervez Musharraf dposed and exiled him.
There are several appointments of three-star officers in Pakistan’s armed forces.
That the prime minister has to decide on the DG,ISI, makes it unique since the
ISI operates both internationally and externally. Over the years, DG, ISI is
involved in key decisions with India, Afghanistan, on the Kashmir issue, on
nuclear weapons and the US. In recent years, this has been extended to China
and with Saudi Arabia, both countries that exercise immense influence in
The openly unstated task of DG, ISI has been to nurture and deploy militants.
Hamid Gul oversaw the training and deployment into Afghanistan of thousands
of youths trained at madrassahs, the seminaries that sprang up along
Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the 1980s. The network came in handy when the
Afghan Taliban were sheltered after they were removed from Kabul following
9/11. It is ditto Kashmir where the ISI trains militants in the territory it controls,
and in Punjab.
Imran Khan was mentored by Hamid Gul when he left cricket to join politics, to
develop sympathy for the militant groups. He opposed military action against
them to the extent Musharraf had nicknamed him “Taleban Khan.”
Khan also benefited immensely when the ISI sought to confront Nawaz Sharif in
- He laid a siege of the country’s parliament for several weeks and lifted it,
as per stories in circulation at that time, when he got a phone call from the then
DG, ISI, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam Khan.
In its editorial (October 7, 2021), Dawn newspaper observes on the role of the
army and of the multiple spy agencies: “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 front of the Supreme Court. The agencies also played a role in
the events surrounding the issue of former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s
extension. They were also major players in handling matters relating to the
Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan. These are just a few of the numerous examples that
portray how the agencies continue to shape and influence matters that are
outside their official purview. The latest appointment, and the frenzy
surrounding it, is a reminder to all citizens, and especially those in decisionmaking positions, that Pakistan must strive to move beyond a state of functional
existence where clearly defined institutional boundaries and limitations are cast
aside with impunity at the altar of some vague expediency.”