KABUL, Afghanistan March 9, 2010 -- Pakistan's top spy can remain in his position for another year, Pakistan's army announced today, keeping in place a three-star general who United States officials have become convinced is committed to flushing militants out of his country.
Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director-general of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, would have had to take mandatory retirement later this month without the one year extension, which was officially declared today but informally granted weeks ago.
United States officials, many of whom are deeply suspicious of the ISI's relationship with the Taliban, have come to believe that keeping Pasha in place will facilitate efforts to flush out Taliban safehavens from Pakistan. The ISI leads Pakistan's efforts against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and works closely with the CIA.
United States officials also seem to be convinced that Pasha's boss, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, should stay in his position if recent gains against the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are to be continued.
Kayani is set to retire later this year, but it is not clear yet if he will receive or accept an extension, or whether he will step aside. If he does step aside, Pasha would be a leading candidate to succeed him.
United States officials admit their relationships with Kayani and Pasha – whom they have known for decades – have been mixed. But lately, the officials seem convinced that both men are committed to fighting the Taliban, and seem to want both to remain in place.
Kayani is among the last senior Pakistani army generals to have received training in the United States before American sanctions cut the training off.
Many subsequent Pakistani army officers went to Saudi Arabia for training, and the United States officials are worried that lower-level officers are deeply skeptical of fighting what many Pakistanis view as "America's war" against the Taliban.
United States military and diplomatic officials in the region say their relationship with Kayani has improved thanks to constant face-to-face meetings with many senior American officials, but especially with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of international forces in Afghanistan, who regularly travels to Pakistan.
Flurry of Successes Against Taliban in Pakistan
In recent months, the Pakistani army has launched offensives against Taliban strongholds in Swat Valley and South Waziristan. A barrage of U.S. drone attacks have scored significant hits on Taliban leaders, and several top militants have been captured.
Kayani will travel to Washington later this month.