Change of Guard in the ISI

BD Sharma
The news of change of guard in the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of Pakistan, the other day came as a bolt from the blue to many in that country. Its director-general Lt Gen Faiz Hameed was posted out after a tenure of more than two years. He was playing a pivotal role in the realm of Pak-Afghan relations. The Talibans have not firmed up their hold over their country as yet and are facing lot of troubles from ISIS and other rivals. Gen Hameed was playing an important role in sorting out their problems as also to promote Pakistan’s vital strategic interests there. Many people have not forgotten his dash to Kabul recently when the quarrelsome Taliban leadership was unable to find a consensus to form the Government. He didn’t only succeed in settling the issue but in the process was able to secure the most important portfolios for the Pak nurtured Haqqani group. The Talibans have not been able to win the confidence of the world community and the country is reeling under the worst financial crisis. They have neither been able to adequately enforce the medieval Sharia law by hanging enough people in the squares of their cities and chopping off enough hands of the people. Nor have they been able to formulate a path-breaking State policy as to how to show their women their rightful place in the confines of four walls and keep them under the strict wraps of Purdah. Taliban Government has also not been recognized by any country as yet. In the middle of such a fluid situation when Afghanistan may encounter a meltdown, spilling over much of the savagery to Pakistan, the services of an experienced hand such as Gen Hameed as ISI chief could not have been dispensed with.
The Gen has many other feathers in his cap. He was instrumental in getting the Faizabad sit-in of Tehreek-e-Labaik organized and later lifted in November, 2017. The dubious role of the
Army/ ISI became obvious when Pakistani media/social media came out with footage showing a senior Pakistani army official handling out money and encouraging the protesters. Gen Hameed earned notoriety after this incident. Hameed brokered the deal between the PML-N government and the Labaik and signed off as guarantor. The General was behaving as an elder of a Jirga rather than a senior Security Officer. Many believed that Labaik was merely a front for the ISI which used it as an instrument to oust the Nawaz Sharif government.
Gen Hameed did also play an important role in the quiet ‘backchannel’ talks between India and Pakistan that took place till late last year. Some quarters in Pakistan feel the need to take up the thread again and who could have been better placed for the task than Hameed as ISI chief.
He played a key role in ensuring the formation of PTI Government. As DG Internal Security, a wing of ISI, he intimidated candidates to change loyalties or decline mandate from Nawaz’s party, forced some candidates to withdraw from the contest, caused splits in some parties and stitched alliances among others to get rid of Nawaz Sharif and to install a pliable Imran Khan. He was duly rewarded and was posted as ISI Chief. Maryam Sharif, the daughter of the former Prime Minister has come out openly against Gen Hameed for engineering the ouster and defeat of Nawaz Sharif on the day his transfer out of the ISI became known. She has also filed a petition in the court in this regard.
In the backdrop of his being such a conniving, manipulating, cunning and crafty hand, he was not expected to be posted out of the Agency.
It doesn’t mean, however that every thing went hunky and dory during his tenure. Some months back Gen Hameed remained in the headlines of the Pakistani media and became a hot topic of discussion in India also. It so happened that the General thought as to why should his younger brother remain a Patwari, the lowly placed functionary of the Revenue Department when he himself was the second most powerful person in Pakistan after the Army Chief. Yes the place of Prime Minister in Pakistan, even if he be Imran Khan the most handsome Prime Minister of the world, the preceptor of the State of Medina and the husband of an oracle Peerni that too a Pinky Peerni wrapped in layer after layer of Purdah, remains practically at the third spot of the hierarchy. So it was simply a hint to the Divisional Commissioner Rawalpindi who instantly obliged and promoted General’s younger brother, Nazaf Hameed Khan as Naib Tehsildar throwing in the process all the norms to the wind. This caused a lot of heartburn to the more deserving and more senior officials who caught hold of a journalist, Assad Toor who ran a popular YouTube channel. The simple minded Assad highlighted the injustice meted out to the deserving employees at the bidding of the ISI chief. This was a red rag to the bull who sent the bouncers and Goondas of ISI to give a thrashing of his life to the poor journalist. Since the midnight knocks, arrests, kidnaps, bashing and thrashing and even eliminating the journalists by the Agency had exceeded all limits and life was not safe for those who wrote/spoke against the Army/Agency, so the infuriated media persons came out on the road all over Pakistan after this incident.
One of the protesting journalists, Hamid Mir who had earlier escaped narrowly an attempt to his life by the ISI articulated that the journalists may not have guns to retaliate against the attackers but they have access to the stories as to what happens within the four walls of the houses of Generals and they will highlight these stories before the people in case attacks on the media persons are not halted. He did also threaten that they would tell the people as to whose wife shot whom inside the confines of house of a General. And which ‘General Rani’ was behind the shootout. Mir was actually alluding to a shooting at the house of the ISI chief Gen Hameed. It was in the air that his wife had fired at a lady who was enjoying the company of the General at his house. Grapevine has it that the lady in question escaped unhurt but the General got injured and remained under treatment at London for many days.
This provocative outburst was too much for the all powerful Agency and Mir was got promptly banned from anchoring his famous TV show on Geo TV. But the matter instead of dying down turned into a potboiler. The lady in question was one Aroosa Alam journalist-daughter of Aleem Akhter, famously known as General Rani- a muse and mistress of General Yahya Khan, the former President notorious for the atrocities on Bengalis in1970-71.It was widely known that Aleem was often the brain behind the swinging General in taking many decisions apart from looking after his famous and ferocious appetite for booze and women. Interesting anecdotes still make rounds in the world of wit and humour in Pakistan regarding the sexual forays of Yahya. Once a security guard at the gate didn’t allow entrance to a lady inside Yahya’s residence despite being told repeatedly by her that she was Ms Taraana, a close friend of the General. After she failed to convince the guard, she established somehow telephonic contact inside and was able to secure entry in the house. On her way back after having some fun with the General, she got stunned when the same security guard saluted her profusely. She couldn’t hold back and asked the guard on his sudden change in his behavior towards her. The guard innocently but sarcastically told her that while entering the premises she was simply Taraana but after the rendezvous with the President she had become “Qoumi Taraana” and this had obligated him to shower her with profuse salutes.
Hamid Mir obviously suffered a lot on this waywardness but he earned much respect from the people who value transparency in governance and freedom of speech. He later showed some repentance over his outburst to obviate the wrath of the rogue Agency. But his stature in the world of journalism grew up higher. Incidentally Mir derives his roots from our Jammu and his family had migrated to Sialkot during the turmoil of 1947. He had lost some of his close relations in those unfortunate happenings and any person suffering such loss of his nears and dears would naturally be nursing recriminations against those who perpetrated them. But he is found to be emancipated enough to show the sagacity by observing in some of his writings/ presentations that he had to understand that those cataclysmic times were hugely abnormal. Such a wind blew as had made man bloodthirsty of man. His family was unfortunate to fall in that fire chamber. Moreover he also mentioned somewhere that it was not worthwhile to continue to harbour enmity for eternity with a community, whom his family held responsible for their misfortunes.
The protests of the media were mere pinpricks and had no effect on the “deep state”, an euphemism for the army-ISI dyad that controls the State apparatus as well as the society at large. Rumours are already afloat in Pakistan that the Prime Minister is not happy with the transfer of the ISI chief Gen Hameed. In the normal circumstances the transfer of the ISI Chief/Lt. Generals is approved by the PM on the recommendation of Army Chief and is notified by the PMO. However in the instant case the transfers have been notified by the Army Headquarters and the PMO is showing reluctance in approving and notifying the same at its end. It is also said that Gen Bajwa has posted his favourite Gen Nadeem as ISI chief hoping he will help him to get another extension as Army Chief. Some people think that Hameed’s posting out of the ISI is linked to his likely consideration for the post of the Army Chief.
He has been posted as Corps Commander because one year’s experience as Corps Commander is a prerequisite for promotion to the top post. It is rumoured that he is a blue-eyed boy of Imran Khan and the latter thinks that Hameed should continue for some more time in the ISI in order to facilitate smooth sailing of his Govt. Later on he may be posted as Corps Commander and promoted as Army Chief on completion of Bajwa’s extended tenure. Gen Hameed can be useful even as Army Chief to help Khan to come to power again. It may, however, turn out to be a mistake on the part of Khan since Hameed is known both as unscrupulous as well as ambitious apart from being notorious for his sexual indiscretions. The truth is that in Pakistan the Prime Minister may be the appointing authority for both the Army Chief and the ISI chief but in fact he merely anoints the Army Chief as his own boss and the ISI chief as an powerful independent authority without whose help Prime Minister may not be able to survive. This ambiguous and murky way of formation and running of the different institutions of the government is taking a heavy toll of the Pakistan polity and may engulf it in its vortex and consume it sooner than later. Those of our countrymen who look towards Pakistan for inspiration should think twice dispassionately and contemplate coolly as to how much disoriented and wayward Pakistan has gone. What unscrupulous and unprincipled games are played for grabbing power and destroying the institution of democracy in the process? And why a non-issue such as the transfer of Lt Generals should become a subject of intense media coverage and discussion. Why must it attract the huge attention of whole of the nation? This is the sad reflection on the sorry state of affairs in our neighbouring country.
(The author is former commissioner/Secretary)