Why did the Pak army chief change his ISI head?

Harsha Kakar

General Bajwa took over as the Pak army chief around the same time as General Bipin Rawat did in India. I wrote an Article in Jan 17 comparing both service chiefs, their difference in roles and responsibilities. I had stated in this Article that General Bajwa has the authority to appoint all heads of military organizations including the ISI, which is officially under the Prime Minister but realistically functions under the army. In contrast Indian RAW and other intelligence agencies are under the government. A Pak army thinktank, TACSTRAT (whose webpage is now closed), countered my Article stating that the ISI functions under the Prime Minister and he appoints its head, though he consults the army chief.
The truth was out last week, when General Bajwa, without any reference to his puppet PM, Imran Khan, announced the appointment of Lt General Faiz Hameed as its ISI head, the third ISI Director General during his tenure as the army chief. In Pakistan, after the army chief, the second most powerful individual in the country is the DG ISI. Post taking over as the ISI chief, Hameed made his courtesy call to Imran, his supposed boss. While whoever may be the head of the ISI should be of no concern to India, this appointment has been done due to the changing internal environment in Pak, which should be of interest to India.
Hameed’s previous experience in the ISI has not been handling militancy in Kashmir, Afghanistan or Iran, rather towards handling internal dissidence. Hence, the appointment needs to be looked at differently. The fact that he and the army chief are from the same Baluch regiment and possibly would have served under him when he was the corps commander, implies that there is a good understanding between them.
In his earlier tenure in the ISI he headed its Counter-Intelligence wing and that was the time when Bajwa banked on him immensely. His engineering of the protest by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in favour of Imran’s PTI and against the ruling PML (N), changed the nation’s political landscape. He employed a policy of baiting, using and subsequently discarding Bhutto’s PPP ensuring victory for Imran Khan in the assembly and senate elections. This is still being repented by the PPP.
He was the individual who exploited the previous Chief Justice of Pakistan, TLP and the Dam fund to secure the release of Asiya Bibi and thus won concessions from the European Union. Even Pompeo, the US secretary of state recently appreciated this act. This was Hameed’s masterstroke. In this present day, internal matters within Pak are more important to the army chief than handling external aspects.
Pak needs to be careful on pushing terrorists into Kashmir as also on employing them to launch any large-scale attacks on security forces in India. It is aware that Indian response would be stronger and more devastating each time, especially with Modi having come back with an enlarged majority. The truth of casualties in Balakote are fresh in the minds of the Pak military leadership. Hence, its airspace remains closed.
Simultaneously, Kashmir is slowly becoming self-sustaining in terrorism, requiring only moral and financial support, which could be handled by hawala and other means. The Governor of J&K, Satya Pal Malik, stated a few days ago that infiltration has drastically reduced in the past few months. There are also reports of Pak closing camps close to the LoC.
Whether this is on account of pressure from FATA needs to be seen. Despite all this, attacks on Indian forces continue. The rise in casualties in the last fortnight is an indicator. Hence, for the moment, Kashmir would not be a top priority for Bajwa.
The Taliban operating in Afghanistan are being relocated in FATA, against which the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is agitating. Hence, the recent attack on their peaceful protests and arrest of their senate representatives. With the arrival of the Taliban back in FATA there would be increased pressure on the local Pashtuns including targeted elimination of their leaders. The Taliban have begun gaining international importance with their talks with China and Russia. While peace talks with the US linger on, there is no need for extra emphasis on them, other than ensuring their relocation.
The internal challenges facing the Pak army in the coming days include subduing the PTM, ensuring victory for selected candidates in elections in FATA due on 20th Jul, thus giving it freedom of action to relocate the Taliban, controlling the rising insurgency in Baluchistan by affecting defections and ensuring action against Justice Isa to prevent him from becoming the Chief Justice of Pak in 2023.
Justice Isa has been strong in his opinion of the army interfering in Pak’s internal politics. Thus, if he becomes the Chief Justice, there would be restrictions on the freedom which the army enjoys. Hence, he needs to be removed even by invoking false cases, as was done for Nawaz Sharif. Simultaneously, there is intense support for him from various Bar Associations in the country, which would need to be curtailed. Here is where manipulation by Hameed will be at its best.
Thus, Bajwa needs someone he can trust completely to deliver. Hameed’s tasking would be towards handling internal issues, rather than external. The rapport between Bajwa and Hameed has even been publicly acknowledged by the TLP chief, Khadim Rizvi and the DG ISPR, General Ghafoor.
More importantly, Bajwa retires in Nov this year. He would want to leave behind an improved image of the Pak army. If he desires an extension, the internal pressure game would be played by Hameed.
On the other hand, if he desires to move to Saudi and replace his predecessor, Raheel Sharif, even then Hameed would play a role. His appointment at this stage would ensure continuity of the internal Bajwa doctrine even after his retirement, ensuring his legacy is maintained.Clearly for Bajwa, the game is now concentrating internally than externally.
Hamid’s appointment comes at a crucial time, not for external dynamics, but for handling internal dissidence and rising anti-army movements in Wazirabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. For India, there is unlikely to be any major impact on his appointment as the DG ISI. Pak’s support to Kashmir may remain as it is as current, without much increase in infiltration.
The author is Major General (Retd)