What Explains the Appointment of Pakistan’s New ISI Chief?
Prateek Joshi

In a recent reshuffle of the Army top brass, Lt. Gen Asim Munir was replaced by Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed as the new chief the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The change comes barely eight months after Munir was appointed as the spy chief. The fact that the new spymaster Gen Faiz is more familiar to the domestic political circles makes the speculation rife on his upcoming aggressive role in “managing” the opposition and civil rights groups (with special emphasis on the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement) giving hard time to the ruling government and the military establishment.

The general’s tenure as the head of counter-intelligence and internal security division leaves no doubt about his closeness to the army’s senior leadership. The army has the micro-manager at the helm who played the lead role behind the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) electoral debacle, an accusation leveled by Nawaz Sharif.1 In the public domain, Gen Faiz’s name first figured in the aftermath of Faizabad sit-in by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in November 2017. It may be recalled that following the changes in Election Act 2017, the PML-N was accused by the TLP of tweaking the oath ceremony in a way that the faith in finality of Prophet Muhammed as the last messenger would acknowledged rather than being be the sole criterion for the elected candidate.2 The oath was quickly amended into its original form but the ensuing mayhem saw protests by the Barelvi extremists blocking the Faizabad interchange, the crucial junction linking Islamabad with Rawalpindi. The government eventually roped in the Army to diffuse the situation. The agreement signed between the Tehreek and the Army bore Faiz Hameed’s signature.3 The absence of any strict action by law enforcement agencies, widespread media attraction to the TLP, in addition to the Election Commission approving the TLP to contest the elections are said to be part of Gen Faiz’s strategy that directly harmed the PML-N’s vote share. The effects of the engineering became visible by September 2017, when the Tehreek-e-Labbaik as well as the Milli Muslim League (founded by Hafiz Saeed) contested on the NA-120 National Assembly seat in Lahore, which was won by Nawaz Sharif’s wife (the two parties bagged 11% vote share).4

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) victory is alluded to the establishment’s role, which banked on Imran Khan’s charismatic persona and an intimidated opposition to ensure that the new dispensation would not face any challenge on the domestic front. However, Pakistani politics is at interesting crossroads today where Imran Khan’s popularity suffers a setback since he assumed office. The opposition happens be on the same page as far as cornering the government is concerned. The legal fraternity too is up against the military establishment’s micro-management policies, something that was lucidly brought out by Supreme Court’s judgment by Justice Qazi Faez Isa in February 2019 highlighting the Army’s involvement in making Faizabad sit-in a political achievement for the Barelvi extremist group.5 Besides holding the agencies responsible for the crisis, Justice Isa also described ISI’s interference in the political sphere as a matter concerning “public importance”, and stated that the SC was mandated to enforce Fundamental Rights to uphold public interest.

Defining the ambit of activities for the agencies, some excerpts from his ruling are worth noting: “No one, including any government, department or intelligence agency can curtail the fundamental right of freedom of speech, expression and press beyond the parameters mentioned in Article 19 of the Constitution…If any personnel of the Armed Forces indulges in any form of politicking or tries to manipulate the media he undermines the integrity and professionalism of the Armed Forces.”67 In reaction, the Pakistani government via President Arif Alvi filed a reference (case) against Justice Isa in the Supreme Judicial Council (a constitutional body composed of senior judges headed by the Chief justice to look into the charges of misconduct by judges) accusing him of not disclosing his properties abroad. The reference (ostensibly on the establishment’s order) attracted strong criticism from the lawyers’ fraternity against the government and the military establishment. So much so, that the present situation is being likened as precursor to the situation in 2007, when the nation’s lawyers took to streets after Pervez Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chowdhary. The turmoil contributed to his fall from power.

In addition, the ongoing agitation by the PTM has galvanized the Pashtun youth in the erstwhile FATA into a strong lobby protesting against the army’s excesses, taking the face-off to a crescendo where the agencies had to apprehend even the Members of the National Assembly and subject them to physical intimidation. The situation in Balochistan too deserves attention since the past few months have witnessed a convergence of Baloch factions and conduct high profile attacks, including the one killing some 12 employees of the Pakistan Coast Guard and that on a five star Hotel in Gwadar in April and May respectively.

It is at this juncture that the establishment has roped in a competent officer who is expected to manage the domestic political crises and the internal security challenges. On the internal security matters, the talk is that Faiz’s role in operations Rah-e-Rast, Rah-e-Nijaat and Zarb-e-Azb have been lauded, again making him the appropriate officer to deal with the renewed thrust from the insurgents waging war against the state. The indication had been on the cards when Gen Faiz was one of the four officers promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen this April, and that the outgoing ISI chief happened to be filling the void for the time being as administrative procedures were being streamlined to make way for Gen Faiz to get the position. Another angle worth looking at is the timing factor, as the shakeup comes barely few months before Gen. Bajwa’s tenure comes to end (in November 2019). Two possibilities are likely in this regard, the first being Bajwa signaling his intent to continue and second, to install his close confidantes with an expectation to exercise influence over the establishment if he is to retire.


1 News Desk, “Gen Faiz Hameed to head ISI”, Pakistan Today, Lahore, June 16, 2019.
2 Fahad Chaudhary, 'Clerical error' that affected Khatm-i-Naboowat laws to be fixed: Ayaz Sadiq, Dawn, Islamabad, October 4, 2017.
3 Usman Khan, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed is the new ISI DG, Samaa Digital, Karachi, June 16, 2019.
4 Amjad Mahmood, “Two religious parties candidates bag 11pc of vote in NA-120”, Dawn, Islamabad, September 19, 2017
5 Suo Moto action regarding Islamabad-Rawalpindi Sit-in/Dharna, Supreme Court of Pakistan, February 6, 2019.
6 Ibid, p. 30.
7 Ibid, p. 34.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct).

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-Services_Intelligence

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