Pakistan spy chief to stay on as key CIA partner

Sunday, March 13, 2011

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's government will extend the term of the country's powerful spy chief, the CIA's main partner in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban and a major player in the country's policies toward Afghanistan, an official said Saturday.

The decision to keep Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha at the head of the Inter Services Intelligence, or the ISI, ensures continuity during a crucial phase in the war in Afghanistan. While ties between the CIA and the ISI are currently rocky, Pasha is believed to have good relationships with his American counterparts.

The ISI and the army -- rather than the civilian government -- formulate Pakistan's foreign and defense policies, especially concerning Afghanistan and India. The agency also has significant influence over domestic political developments.

Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar told reporters Pasha would stay on as ISI chief when his term expires March 18, but he did not say how long the extension would be. One senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said he would a get a further one-year term. He took up the post in 2008.

Under Pasha's leadership, Pakistan has taken the fight to Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban. It has partnered with the United States in drone strikes against militants in the northwest, but questions remain over whether it has wholly severed its ties with commanders behind the Afghan insurgency.

Pakistan's perceived differing strategic interests with America, especially over the future of Afghanistan, cause frequent tensions between the two spy agencies. Many analysts believe some in the agency want to ensure its one-time allies, the Taliban, wield influence in Afghanistan once foreign troops withdraw.

Ties have hit a low since the arrest of a CIA contractor in eastern Pakistan in January after he shot and killed two Pakistanis. The contractor remains in jail despite Washington's insistence he must be freed. The ISI has criticized alleged CIA covert operations in the country.

Last year, Pakistan gave an unprecedented three-year extension to army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, an ally of Pasha.

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