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Pakistan names new intelligence chief

By Owen Weldon     Oct 1, 2008 in World
On tuesday Pakistan's government named a new chief of its powerful intelligence agency and this move could herald some changes in Pakistan's approach towadr Islamic militants.
Pakistan appointed Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the director-general of military operations, as head of the inter-services intelligence agency, or ISI, which has worked with U.S. intelligence groups such as the CIA. The Pakistani agency is believed to be tainted by historical ties to the Taliban and other militants.
The change in command appears to signal a desire on the part of the country's government to alter the image of its premier intelligence-gathering organization. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj was the previous chief of the agency but he held that position for less than a year, which is an unusually short tenure at the helm of the ISI, which is described by some critics as a state within a state.
Pakistan's new government has attempted to assert some semblance of authority over the ISI but it has not been an easy task and so far there has been limited success. Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani was forced to back down from an effort to to bring the agency's command and control under the civilian interior ministry.
Pakistan's military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, a lso a former chief of the ISI, made the announcement of the high-level shuffle. He made it clear that the military would retain control of the agency's day-to-day operations.
The ISI's loyalties and motives have been widely questioned even though the agency has provided crucial help to the U.S. in finding several senior Al Qaeda and Taliban figures.
This year authorities in Afghanistan accused the ISI of helping militant groups that bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, and the ISI was accused of trying to kill the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, but the Pakistani government has denied any involvement.
In recent months senior Bush administration officials have sharply questioned Pakistan's willingness and ability to crack down on militants that take shelter in the tribal lands along the Afghan border.
Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director, met with Pakistani President Asif Zardari last week at the United Nations, which is the latest in a series of high-level meetings involving intelligence officials of the two countries.
The ISI, in previous encounters, had been accused by U.S. intelligence and military officials of tipping of Taliban targets to planned U.S. missile strikes and of providing support to militants behind the increase in violence in Afghanistan over the last year.
Officials in both countries still downplayed suggestions that the change in ISI leadership had been engineered by the USA and sources say that the sudden switch reflected Kayani's desire to put together a team that he can trust.
Back in the 1990s the ISI nurtured the Taliban as part of a regional strategy meant to counter India's influence. The extremist movement was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan nearly seven years ago but has since staged a resurgence.
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