Friday, March 9, 2012

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan named a new head of intelligence on Friday, propelling a former deputy spy chief to the head of an agency crucial to American hopes of negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban and keeping the pressure on al-Qaida.

Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam replaces Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who had been in the post since 2008 and was due to retire on March 18th. The scion of a military family who is currently army commander in the city of Karachi, Islam was considered a likely man for the job.

As head of the Inter-Services Intelligence, he will be a major player in any Pakistani efforts to get the Afghan Taliban to enter peace negotiations to the end the war. ISI agents helped build up the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s, and its leaders are based in Pakistan. The ISI is believed to have some influence over them.

The ISI also works closely with the CIA in tracking and capturing members of al-Qaida, which retain a global command and training center close to the Afghan border. Many of the terrorist plots targeting the West over the last 10 years have originated from the region.

Islam is not expected to immediately, or significantly, change Pakistani policy in those areas.

The ISI falls under the control of the army, which sets policy in consultation with the elected government.

"I don't think we will see very much of a change in direction," said retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood. "He will bring stability, and also some fresh thinking."

Islam served as deputy ISI director from 2008 to 2010, and also headed the ISI's internal security wing, one of the most important positions in the agency.

The ISI has helped kill or capture several top al-Qaida leaders since 2001, but there are lingering doubts about its loyalty. The CIA cooperates closely with the ISI, but ties have been strained since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year.

Recently, Pakistani and U.S. officials said that the two agencies relations were improving, even as other areas of the partnership between Islamabad and Washington suffered.


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