Pakistan prime minister names new spy agency chief

REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani on Friday named a successor to Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha as the head of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, ending speculation that Pasha’s term would be extended for the third year in a row.

Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, the army’s corps commander for Karachi, will become the new head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. He will take over the post March 18, when Pasha retires. Before becoming a three-star general, Islam served as the ISI’s deputy director-general.

Pasha, 59, has led the ISI for 3 1/2 years, overseeing the agency during one of its most difficult and tumultuous periods. He was at the agency’s helm for about a month when Pakistani militants launched attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed more than 160 people. India blamed the attack on Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group with alleged links to the ISI.

Last year, Pasha came under intense criticism at home after U.S. commandos were able to carry out a secret nighttime raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad, about a two-hour drive from the capital, Islamabad. Afterward, Pasha appeared before parliament and offered to resign to defuse the crisis, but he was allowed to stay on.

Closely allied with Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pasha was supposed to retire in March 2010, but Gilani has granted him two 12-month extensions. Before being named ISI chief, Pasha was director-general of military operations for the army.

The main opposition party, the PML-N, had opposed another term extension for Pasha. Party leaders contended that an extension would have appeased the country’s security establishment at a time when it was pressuring the civilian government over a scandal centering on allegations that civilian leaders last year had urged Washington to help rein in the military and prevent a coup.

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