New Pakistani Intelligence Agency Head Appointed: Impact Remains to be Seen

Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam (Islam) has been appointed as Pakistan’s director general of the Internal Services Intelligence (ISI) by the Pakistani Prime Minister.  The director general is the head of the ISI and is widely regarded as the second most powerful position in Pakistan’s military.  Islam is considered a “safe choice” by Pakistani political experts particularly due to his experience within the military and ISI, as well as his media savvy.  Islam is expected to aide in the continued mending of the ISI’s relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S. (CIA) and to facilitate peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.

The ISI relationship with the CIA has seen a flurry of events that have lead to its recent deterioration beginning with the shooting of two Pakistani’s by a CIA contractor in January of last year.  The raid of Osama Bin Laden without the ISI’s prior notification coupled with accusations by U.S. officials claiming that a Taliban militant group was a “virtual arm” of the ISI have further bruised the relationship.  Since the recent erroneous attack on Pakistani soldiers near the Afghanistan border, discussions with the U.S. have come to a halt and it is hoped Islam will play a prominent rule in resuming and mending Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S.  Although officials from both the ISI and CIA have indicated that the relationship between the two organizations has improved recently, much work is still anticipated.

Furthermore, the ISI faces internal judicial proceedings surrounding corruption and financing of favored politicians in a 1990 election.  Clearly, Islam is walking into the position with his plate full but questions remain surrounding Pakistan’s military future.  It remains to be seen how successful Islam can be in repairing relationships with the U.S. and improving the ISI’s image both domestically and internationally.

The full article can be found here.


  1. It will be interesting to see whether Islam will have any impact on U.S.-Pakistani relations, at least militarily. I do not know whether the article meant to imply that tensions worsened after the surprise U.S. raid on Abbottaba because of U.S. failure to coordinate with or notify Pakistani authorities, but what also came out of that incident was suspicion, perhaps supported by think tank emails released by WikiLeaks, that Pakistani intelligence and army officials were fully aware of Bin Laden’s presence in the Pakistani city. It is further suspected that the top five leaders of al Qaeda are currently hiding in remote regions of Pakistan. Combined with U.S. errors resulting in the deaths of Pakistani soldiers and civilians, the relationship is justifiably rife with trust issues. This mistrust can be improved with mutual respect and cooperation, but such an improvement is dependent upon whether both countries truly share the same or compatible goals and objectives in the region, something not immediately evident to me.

  2. The ISI basically operates as a government within a government in Pakistan. In the past the ISI has lent support to terrorists groups and anyone else willing to give them money. While they have aided some U.S. efforts to capture suspected terrorists, they have also impeded many others. The ISI has been an unstable agency that is far from reliable or supportive of the United States’ interests. Hopefully the appointment of this new director can change attitudes inside the agency, but it seems to me that the old ways are simply to entrenched to end with the simple appointment of a new director. For a good background history of the ISI, read Mark J. Roberts, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate: A State within a State?, 48 JOINT FORCE Q. 104, (2008).

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