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Pakistan Reader
Appointing the new ISI Chief: Why is Imran Khan delaying the notification? Who will blink?

  D. Suba Chandran

Neither Imran Khan is powerful, nor his party is strong to take on the Establishment


In the news
On 6 October 2021, the ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) of Pakistan's military made a short announcement on the appointment of the new Director-General of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), along with a few other changes. Titled Appointments/Promotions, the ISPR press release read: "Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum appointed DG ISI, Lieutenant General Muhammad Saeed appointed Commander Karachi Corps, Lieutenant General Nauman Mahmood appointed President NDU. Major General Muhammad Asim Malik promoted Lieutenant General and appointed Adjutant General of Pakistan Army."

On 11 October, according to a news report that appeared in Dawn, Imran Khan had a meeting with Gen Qamar Bajwa, on the next ISI chief. According to Dawn, "The meeting was also confirmed by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry during his presser after the cabinet meeting, stating that the issue of appointment of new ISI DG Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum had been resolved and that the PM enjoyed the authority to appoint the chief of the country's premier spy agency in accordance with law and Constitution. Also sharing details of the meeting, PM's aide on political affairs Amir Dogar said the premier wanted Lt Gen Hameed to stay as DG ISI in view of the situation in Afghanistan, adding that PM Khan and Gen Bajwa enjoyed relation of respect and dignity." The same report in Dawn also read: "Asked what the constitutional and legal procedure was to appoint DG ISI, Mr Dogar explained that a summary had to be sent to the prime minister with three names out of which he selected one probable whom he deemed fit for the office."

On 12 October, almost a week after the ISPR statement, Fawad Chaudhry stated in a press conference: "The legal procedure will be followed in the appointment of the new DG ISI, for which both [Gen Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran] are in agreement." (Dawn, 12 October 2021) On the same day, Amir Dogar, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Political Affairs, was quoted to have stated to a private TV: "The prime minister wanted Lt Gen Faiz Hameed to serve for a few more months." (GeoTV, 12 October 2021) The Geo TV also mentioned Amir Dogar saying, "three to five names will be put forward before the prime minister, and he will pick the new DG ISI from them."

On 14 October, Fahd Husain, one of the political commentators, as a part of his regular column, made a melodramatic statement on the issue: "Many agonizing days later, it is still not clear which way this issue will settle, if it will settle, and who will finally take charge as the new DG ISI. It is quite an unprecedented situation." (Fahd Husain, "Notifying crisis," Dawn, 14 October 2021)

Three issues in the background
First the announcement of the appointment of a new DG-ISI. It was a simple statement made by ISPR as a routine announcement on 6 October 2021. The announcement simply said that Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum was appointed as the DG ISI. No eyebrows were raised within Pakistan or elsewhere on the appointment. Multiple editorials and analyses attempted to explain who the new ISI chief is and what the assignment of the current ISI chief (Lt Gen Faiz Hameed) would be. Most of the analyses focussed on the experience that the new ISI chief would bring in, and how the promotion of Lt Gen Faiz Hameed would mean. (See the following: Fahd Husain, "The big reshuffle," Dawn, 7 October 2021; "Lt Gen Nadeem replaces Faiz Hameed as ISI chief in major reshuffle," The Express Tribune, 6 October 2021; "ISI gets its 25th chief: The saga of premier intelligence agency," The News, 7 October 2021). None of the above analyses last week discussed whether the proper procedures were followed in selecting the new ISI chief and whether the final decision was the PM's. They considered it as a routine process.

Second, the controversy over the appointment. Is there a disagreement between the prime minister and the army chief on who would be the next Director-General of the ISI? Most of the discussions during the last week Pakistan media hints at the same. However, a section believes that Imran Khan is in agreement with Gen Bajwa on the appointment of the new ISI chief; however, he wants the present ISI chief to continue for some more time, until the situation stabilize in Afghanistan. All Imran wants is to delay the new appointment until the end of November.

The above argument makes sense; many within Pakistan are convinced of the positive role played by Gen Faiz Hameed in ensuring Islamabad's interests in Afghanistan. If it is only an issue of Imran wanting the present ISI chief to continue for a few more months, it could have been addressed in the two meetings between him and Gen Bajwa (the first one before the 6 October announcement of the ISI by the ISPR, and the other one on 11 October). Or, is it more than a mere extension of the present tenure? This seems to be the primary question inside Pakistan this week.

Third, can Imran Khan afford to assert his choice against that of the military over the appointment of the DG-ISI? The announcement of the new ISI chief was made by an ISPR statement last week. The Prime Minister's office was expected to notify the same. This is considered to as a routine process. However, the narrative, as placed by the SAPM in the media, refers that Imran Khan wants three names suggested by the army chief, and from which one would be "selected" by the Prime Minister. This narrative conveys that Imran Khan does not want to be rubber stamp in approving the choice made by Gen Bajwa. He wants to "select" his own person to lead the ISI.

The above should not be an issue, if Pakistan is a regular democracy, and if Imran Khan is elected by the people without any extra-political support. Is this the case in Pakistan?

Imran Khan cannot afford to take on the Establishment, especially over the appointment of the DG-ISI. The position is too sensitive for the Establishment to allow anyone outside, including the Prime Minister, to have a say. During the past, governments led by the PPP and PML-N attempted to bring the ISI under its direct influence; none could succeed. Is the PTI in a better position to do so? Or, is Imran Khan better positioned than Asif Ali Zardari or Nawaz Sharif to stand up against the Establishment?

Neither Imran is powerful nor his party is strong to take on the Establishment. By now, the political team closer to Imran Khan should try to find a face-saving exit for him and Gen Bajwa. The media would be blamed for exaggerating a procedural matter. A statement would be made once again on the government and the Establishment being on the same page.


*Note: The note was first published in

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