Pakistan appointed a close confidante of the army chief as head of the Inter-Services Intelligence on Monday, a move that suggested General Raheel Sharif was consolidating his position amid political instability in the country.
The appointment of Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, part of a major reshuffle in the military, is aimed at cementing the army’s dominance after weeks of anti-government protests in Pakistan. Akhtar will assume his responsibilities on November 8.
Political observers were surprised at Akhtar’s appointment as he has considerable experience in counter-insurgency from a previous posting in the troubled Waziristan and tribal areas but little in intelligence work.
Akhtar's previous job was head of the paramilitary Rangers in the province of Sindh in the south, where he led a comprehensive operation against Islamist groups and criminal gangs in Karachi.
The head of the ISI is one of the most important posts in Pakistan, at the intersection of domestic politics, the war on militancy and Pakistan's foreign relations. Although the ISI officially reports to the prime minister, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, in this case General Raheel Sharif.
Political observers were also surprised at Akhtar’s appointment because prime minister Nawaz Sharif had replaced him when he was director general of Sindh Rangers while an operation against militants was on in Karachi.
Some observers wondered if this would lead to more animosity between the two as he was removed from the command position owing to differences of opinion between the army high command and the political leadership.
At the same time, many officials and analysts said Akhtar’s choice as the head of the ISI was an indication of the importance the army chief placed on the ongoing operation in Waziristan and tribal areas.
A graduate of the Command and Staff College Quetta, National Defence University and the US Army War College, Akhtar was commissioned in the Frontier Force Regiment in September 1982.
(With agency inputs)