ON SUNDAY night, Lt General Faiz Hameed was appointed the new director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the military-led spy agency. The ISI, with its outsize say in national politics and foreign policy, not least in shaping Pakistan’s “mullah-military alliance”, is today among the world’s most significant intelligence agencies.
Though it is the Prime Minister who appoints the ISI chief “in consultation” with the Army chief per the Constitution, in reality it is the Army who decides who he wants in the job. In turn, the DG ISI is answerable only to the Army chief. He is the de facto number two in the Pakistan Army, and arguably in the country after the Army chief. That seems truer today as the civilian government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan struggles to get into stride, and the Army’s influence grows. Pakistan daily The News reported on Monday that the government is in the process of setting up an Economic Security Council with Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as one of the members.
Lt Gen Hameed replaces Lt Gen Asim Muneer, who was appointed to head the ISI only eight months earlier. No other ISI chief has had a shorter stint. He has been moved as Corps Commander Gujranwala.
After Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and Lt Gen Muneer, Hameed is Bajwa’s third spymaster since he became Army chief. His appointment was foreshadowed when he was promoted to a three-star general along with three other major-generals in April 2019.
His appointment, announced by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Sunday night along with a host of other appointments in the Army, comes months before Gen Bajwa’s three-year term ends in November 2019. Like Bajwa, Hameed is also from the Baloch Regiment. In his new role, he carries heft enough to see off challengers to Bajwa within the Army in case he wants an extension. That would last until 2022, when Hameed would be among a small group of generals favourably positioned for the top job.
Rise to prominence
Immediately prior to his appointment as the head of ISI, Hameed led the counter-intelligence wing of the ISI. He most famously brokered a deal that ended a siege on Islamabad by protesters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik, in November 2017.
The Labbaik, an extremist Barelvi group, was protesting a change in the oath of office in the Elections Act that it said diluted Pakistan’s anti-Ahamadiyya laws. The then PML(N) government headed by PM Shahid Abbasi had to cave in to its demands, including the resignation of then Law Minister Zahid Hamid. The agreement brokered by the Army, bears Lt Gen Hameed’s signature as a guarantor. The document ended with praise for the Army, and gratitude to General Bajwa for “special efforts” and “for saving the nation from a big catastrophe”. As the crowds dispersed, a major-general was reportedly seen distributing white envelopes with Pak Rs 1,000 each to the protesters.
Earlier this year, a Supreme Court bench, which had taken suo motu the case of the 2017 seige, said members of the armed forces should not engage in any political activity, and passed adverse remarks against the ISI, and said the events around the sit-in continue the perception that the intelligence agency interferes in the country’s politics.
The wheel has turned full circle. While Hameed is now ISI chief, a reference has been brought against Justice Faez Isa who wrote the verdict.
Hameed was also in the eye of a storm ahead of the 2018 Pakistan elections when former PM Nawaz Sharif accused him of engineering defections from his PML(N) to Imran Khan’s PTI. At the time, Director-General ISPR Lt Gen Asif Ghafoor came out strongly in Hameed’s defence, stating “[then] Maj Gen Hameed has played an important role in combating terrorism and his detractors do not understand the scope of his post”.
What India will watch for
As the head of the ISI, which is known as a ‘state within a state’, Hameed will practically run Pakistan from the shadows and crucial aspects of its foreign policy, including relations with India, and will be in charge of safeguarding Pakistan’s interests in the ongoing “Afghan peace talks” between the US and the Taliban.
From New Delhi, he will be watched for how he directs the relationship of the ISI with the two UN-designated terrorist groups focused on India, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamat-ud-dawa, and their leaders, Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed, who are also designated under UN Security Council resolution 1267. India’s air attack in Balakot in response to the Jaish bombing that killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir in February is seen as a watershed moment in India-Pakistan relations. As reported by The Indian Express, it is seen as having prompted Pakistan last week to share intelligence about an imminent terrorist attack in J&K. India will be waiting to see where it goes from here, and what course the new DG ISI will set with India.
The immediate challenge Pakistan faces is at the plenary of the Financial Action Task Force, a global anti-terrorism/money laundering watchdog, that has committed Pakistan to taking measurable steps against terror groups and their financing.
Hameed’s appointment also comes at a time when Pakistan’s northwest is in turmoil with protests by the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, declared by the Army as “terrorists” and “anti-national” and alleged to be in the pay of Indian intelligence agencies. The Army has declared that it will brook no dissent and Hameed will implement that policy.