Pakistan Picks New Chief For Intelligence Agency

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Pakistani government has selected a new chief for its powerful intelligence service, the ISI, replacing a figure the Bush administration has long suspected of ties to Taliban extremists and other militant groups in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

An army statement released late yesterday announced the appointment of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha to the ISI post, according to the Associated Press. Pasha, said to be close to army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, will replace Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who was chosen for the post by retired Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president.

Bush administration officials expressed cautious optimism about the appointment of Pasha, the director general of military operations for the Pakistani army since 2005. "It is a chance for the new government to work out a set of new directions for the ISI," one official said. The administration and Congress have repeatedly expressed concern that ties between the Pakistani intelligence service and the Taliban have undermined U.S. and NATO efforts to stem cross-border attacks by Pakistan-based extremists.

U.S. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, said last month that he was certain there was "a level of ISI complicity" with the Taliban and other extremist organizations. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has raised similar complaints. The Pakistani government acknowledged that rogue intelligence officers might be involved with extremists but denied allegations of high-level support from the ISI, which stands for Inter-Services Intelligence.

Beginning with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani's visit to Washington in May, the administration has pressed his government to take control of the ISI, a message also conveyed during repeated visits to Pakistan this year by high-level U.S. military and intelligence officials. Last week, President Bush met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at the United Nations.

The decision to replace Taj comes as the administration is conducting a widespread review of its strategy in the faltering Afghanistan war. In July, Bush approved an order allowing U.S. commandos to conduct ground operations in Pakistan's western tribal areas, a mountainous region where the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups are thought to operate. The Pakistani government vigorously protested an incursion by U.S. forces this month and its forces fired last week at two U.S. helicopters in the border region.

Diplomatic and administration officials said that the opportunity to remove Taj came with a regular military rotation and that several other senior ISI officials are expected to be transferred. Taj will retain his military rank and be given another assignment, they said.

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