In a major and surprising reshuffle, the Pakistan Army on Sunday, 16 June night, announced that it is bringing in a new head of its spy agency, the ISI, and appointed Lt General Faiz Hameed, who has been making headlines in the country for a few years now, given the controversies he is involved in.
It’s quite rare to see such high-profile restructuring within the top posts of the military, given that the last spymaster Lt Gen Asim Muneer only spent eight months in the office of the DG, ISI, and has now been transferred to lead a corps in the Punjab province.
Is Current Army Chief General Bajwa Trying To Secure An Extension Of His Term?
In some circles it is believed that the current Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, who has only four months left in office, is consolidating his power and bringing his favourites to the top in a bid to secure an extension. However, at this stage this is mere speculation, and the Pakistan Army in the past has had to face strong criticism whenever its chiefs have sought extensions in their tenure which normally lasts for three years. The last time an army chief got an extension was in 2010, when the then head of the Pakistani military, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, got a three year extension and faced immense criticism over it.
General Hameed was promoted to three stars from the rank of Major General along with four others in April 2019, and may be one of the contenders for the job of army chief in 2022.
General Hameed is from the Baloch Regiment, and in recent times he has also been the in-charge, for the internal security wing at the ISI.
Given the tight-lipped nature of the military, we may never get to know the official reason as to why the spy chief was changed, but General Faiz's credentials in the recent past do give an idea about what is to come under his tenure as the chief of the spy agency, the ISI, known for its controversial practices within Pakistan and in the region.
Looking Into New ISI Chief’s Past
Regionally, Pakistan continues to manage, support and sponsor jihadi proxies which are Afghanistan, India, and Iran-focused, and given that General Hameed was looking after counter-terrorism operations before within the ISI, this militant policy may continue as it is.
Domestically, the General’s name first appeared during the 2017 sit-in staged by a pro-blasphemy law political extremist group called the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), who had blocked a major entrance into Islamabad city for weeks, demanding the then government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to punish those who had proposed changes in the oath the parliamentarians are supposed to recite when elected. The change in some of the words were deemed blasphemous by the TLP.
Given this was an insignificant issue that was blown out of proportion by effectively using the country's mainstream media and the political opposition, many at that time had felt that it was orchestrated by the military to weaken the ruling party of Mr Sharif, who wanted his government free of military interference.
Subsequently, when the sit-in ended, an agreement that surfaced between the government and the protesters had the signatures of General Faiz Hameed as a guarantor between the two sides.
New ISI Chief May Have Helped Imran Khan Come To Power
In a hearing about the protests that concluded this year in February, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, a Supreme Court judge, had questioned the General's role and had concluded that those from the army that were involved in this deal had violated their oath by getting involved with politics, and therefore must be punished. But no one has been able to question General Hameed till date, and Justice Isa, the judge who passed this historical verdict, currently faces a misconduct inquiry which many believe is linked to his verdict against the General.
The General’s name then resurfaced again in July 2018 when former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called General Faiz the main man behind the political wheeling and dealing that saw Sharif's party losing the 2018 general elections. Sharif alleged that he was the man forcing the former’s party members to switch loyalties.
It is widely believed that General Faiz helped Imran Khan become the country’s prime minister by ensuring a victory for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).
Khan seems to have rewarded the General recently by giving him the Hilal-i-Imtiaz which is the second highest civilian award handed to officers of the Pakistan Armed Forces by the Government of Pakistan. Coincidentally, when a renowned Pakistani journalist, Shahzaib Jillani, criticised this move and reminded the PTI government of the controversial nature of General Hameed, Mr Jillani had to face an inquiry for his statement. Earlier, another Pakistani journalist had also claimed that General Hameed had intimidated him.
Has New ISI Chief Been Roped In To Crush All Political & Intellectual Opposition?
General Hameed's appointment comes at a crucial time for a few other reasons apart from that of Bajwa's extension. Pakistan is currently facing immense internal pressures from multiple fronts, with the main one being a grass-roots rights movement called the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) that has challenged the military narrative about so-called ‘War on Terror’, and is exposing the military's abusive human rights practices in their region next to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The military has unsuccessfully tried to crush this movement, but it has only gotten bigger. Secondly, the country's combined political opposition in the Parliament has been threatening for country-wide protests due to the economic mismanagement of the Khan-led PTI government that has pushed Pakistan towards bankruptcy and a downward spiral of most economic indicators.
In such a scenario, it appears that General Hameed has been brought in to ensure that any political and intellectual opposition in the country is effectively crushed, and Pakistan's slide toward absolute authoritarianism continues unhindered.
(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist living in exile in Paris since February 2018 and is currently writing a book about Pakistan. He teaches journalism at SciencesPo and runs a digital platform called safenewsrooms.org, which documents censorship in the media. He tweets at @TahaSSiddiqui This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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