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Pakistan Sacks Chief Of Powerful Spy Agency

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani are seen to be bringing in their own people.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani are seen to be bringing in their own people.

(RFE/RL) -- Pakistan has fired the head of its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj, in an apparent bid to clean up the military spy agency amid Western claims that it secretly backs the Taliban.

Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha -- who headed military operations and recently launched offensives against militants in the tribal regions near the Afghan border -- will replace Taj, who was appointed by former President Pervez Musharraf.

The moves are among 14 new appointments announced on September 29 by General Ashfaq Kayani -- the military leader who took over as Pakistan's army chief last year when Musharraf was forced into resigning as head of the military.

Chief Pakistani military spokesman General Athar Abbas insists that all 14 appointments are routine changes "due over a period of time."

But Rahul Bedi, South Asia correspondent for "Jane's Defense Weekly," says there are other motivations behind the moves. He says personal loyalties are important in Pakistan's military and that Pasha is quite close to Kayani.

"I think this is part of General Kayani, the army chief, trying to secure his own hold over the army because a lot of the appointments that were made over the last six or eight months have been made by the outgoing chief of army staff, General Musharraf, who was also the president," Bedi says.

"I think General Kayani is also trying to establish his own hold over the Pakistani military and put his own people in place."

ISI Complicity In Terrorism

The changes to the leadership in Pakistan's military and intelligence services are being closely watched by the United States and other allies for signs of stability and commitment to the war against terrorism.

Western officials suspect that, having helped to create Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime, the ISI is still playing a double game in the war on terror.

The NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General David McKiernan, said in August that there is ISI complicity in Taliban militancy along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Another issue is whether U.S. forces should strike militant targets in Pakistan's tribal regions if the ISI and other Pakistani forces fail to do so.

Afghanistan and India also have accused the ISI of involvement in the deadly bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July.

Pakistan strongly denies any such links to militants, although Musharraf admitted in 2006 that some retired Pakistani intelligence officers may have been abetting extremists.

With Pakistani forces increasingly becoming involved in skirmishes with NATO and U.S. forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border, Bedi says pressure from the West is also behind the command changes in the ISI.

"This is also linked to the wider war on terror because over the last four or five months, the Pakistani Army has come under a lot of pressure from Washington, which accuses the ISI particularly of helping the Taliban -- logistically as well as in terms of providing intelligence and material help," Bedi says.

"So this is also a signal to Washington to indicate that changes are afoot and that the ISI means business as far as fighting the Taliban is concerned."

Islamabad-based security analyst Talat Masood, a former Pakistan army general, agrees.

He notes that the changes come at a time when there is a lot of talk about the ISI in the Western media. Masood concludes that with a new ISI chief, General Kayani has now put together a team of his own choice and will be able to lead the army with greater confidence.