Little progress visible on ending impasse despite claims by government officials that matter has been resolved
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government on Thursday continued attempts to downplay the persisting impasse between the civilian and military leaderships on the appointment of a new Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief.
“The civil-military leadership is onboard in consultation and the decision will be made in a cordial environment,” Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain quoted Prime Minister Imran Khan as telling a PTI parliamentary committee meeting earlier in the day. According to politicians present in the meeting, Khan told the meeting’s participants that there was “no misunderstanding” between the Army and the government.
“No one has a better relationship with the military leadership than me … the speculation is not correct as there was a technical error that will be corrected,” he was quoted as saying. In his media interaction, Fawad stressed that all matters related to the appointment of the ISI director-general had been finalized and a decision would soon be announced. However, rumors of a civil-military divide persist, especially in light of the prime minister seeking interviews with the post’s aspirants before he picks the successor to incumbent Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed.
Dismissing such speculation, the information minister claimed it was “routine” for the premier to meet the ISI DG candidates and it was “inappropriate” to make the process controversial. “It is being said that the prime minister will be interviewing for a new DG ISI. It is a common practice to meet before being appointed to these positions. It is highly inappropriate to make such an action controversial,” he posted on Twitter.
However, senior defense analysts have said that this is a very rare occurrence and the premier’s decision to interview the candidates suggests he does not fully trust the summary submitted to him by the Army.
In his press interaction, Fawad emphasized that the government feared extremist groups would take advantage of instability if Afghanistan were left alone at this critical juncture, saying the situation in the war-torn state had been the primary focus of the parliamentary committee meeting. “Pakistan’s position is that Afghanistan should not be left alone at this time and aid for the war-ravaged country should continue on humanitarian grounds,” he said.
Echoing the information minister, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the prime minister had assured lawmakers that civil-military relations were “ideal,” and both the government and the Army had “a very good understanding.” He claimed the issue of the DG ISI appointment had become controversial because Khan was “thinking politically.”
Several members of the ruling party, meanwhile, have claimed—on condition of anonymity—that the prime minister wants to retain the incumbent ISI chief because of the Afghanistan situation “at least through the winter.” Defense experts say this raises a worrying question over whether this suggests that the prime minister believes the Army chief—who approved Faiz Hameed’s posting to Peshawar—is unaware of the severity of the situation in Afghanistan.