Imran Khan in rare face-off with Pakistan army over naming new ISI chief
Pakistan’s political circles were abuzz with speculation on Friday following a further delay in the formal appointment of the next chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Khan has been locked in an unprecedented face-off with the powerful army, which issued a statement to the media on October 6 naming Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as the next ISI chief, replacing incumbent Lt Gen Faiz Hameed.
According to convention, the Pakistan Army forwards the names of three lieutenant generals to the prime minister, who picks one as the ISI director general. Though the formal announcement about the choice is made by the premier, it is widely understood that the army chief conveys which of the three officers should be picked for the post.
As part of a reshuffle announced by the army on October 6, Hameed was to be moved out of the ISI to head the Peshawar-based XI Corps. A stint in an operational command is needed to put Hameed in contention for becoming army chief after the current chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa, completes his extended term in November 2022.
However, people familiar with the matter said Khan has been dragging his feet on making a formal announcement about the next ISI chief. Various theories have done the round in Pakistan in this connection. Some have said Khan believes Hameed should remain in his current post because of the role he has been playing in shaping developments in Afghanistan. After differences emerged among the Taliban over forming a setup in Kabul, Hameed rushed to the Afghan capital to cobble together a setup that put hardliners and members of the Haqqani Network in the driving seat.
Others have contended that Khan’s wife, a pirni or spiritual guide, had suggested that the time was not auspicious to make a change in the ISI. There were even reports that Khan’s camp had made an unprecedented suggestion that Hameed should serve as both ISI chief and XI Corps commander.
Khan’s stance has aggravated relations between the civilian government and the army. The people cited above said the army is expected to move forward with a planned reshuffle of top generals by October 25.
Adding to the speculation in political circles was the fact that Hameed has accompanied foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on his first visit to Kabul since the Taliban assumed power in mid-August. Hameed has been seen publicly with Qureshi in meetings with the top Taliban leadership.
There was an expectation that Khan would issue a notification on Anjum’s appointment on Friday as he met the general this view to sound him about the ISI chief’s post. Bajwa and Khan have also met to resolve the issue.
The imbroglio has also led to speculation about the future of Khan’s government, which has depended on the army to prop it up since it came to power in 2018.