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ISI gets its 25th chief: The saga of premier intelligence agency

October 07, 2021
ISI gets its 25th chief: The saga of premier intelligence agency

LAHORE: While the 25th Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief, Lt. General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum, becomes the ninth Pakistani spymaster to assume charge of this office during the month of October since 1995, his predecessor, Lt. General Faiz Hameed, has been posted as the 25th Corps Commander of Peshawar after heading the country’s premier intelligence agency for 845 days between June 17, 2019 and October 6, 2021.

General Faiz Hameed will now be heading the Pakistan Army’s XI Corps, which was established in 1975 under the command of General Majeed Malik to support administrative and military operational units in the-then NWFP and northern areas.

Stationed in Peshawar, the XI Corps is internationally distinguished for its involvement in the Soviet Afghan War (1979-89), the Kargil War of 1999 and the post-September 11 war on terror in the troubled tribal belt of Pakistan.

We all know that after the 9/11 episode in the United States, some 20 years ago, and the subsequent offensive launched by the United States and its allies against Afghanistan in October 2001, the XI Corps became the main Pakistani formation involved in fighting in Waziristan and the North West Frontier in general.

The outgoing ISI chief, General Faiz Hameed, has thus been entrusted with another very important job at a very crucial juncture. One Pakistan Army chief, General Aslam Beg, had also served as Peshawar’s Corps Commander between October 1985 and January 1987.

Similarly, one former ISI chief General Ehsanul Haq had headed this vital corps between April 2001 and October 2001.

The average tenure of 24 (ISI) chiefs, since the powerful spy agency’s inception in 1948, has thus approximately been 3.04 years.

An Australian-born Major General, Robert Bill Cawthome, remains the longest-serving Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, having called shots for over nine years from 1950 to 1959.

Robert Cawthome was once a British Army officer, who had later joined the Pakistan Army, which currently enjoys services of two full Generals (Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Nadeem Raza), 28 Lieutenant Generals (including Surgeon General Lt. General Nigar Johar) and 198 Major Generals.

Here follows the list of all the 24 ISI chiefs who have served on this powerful position since 1948: Colonel (later Major General) Syed Shahid Hamid (July 14, 1948-June 20, 1950), Robert Cawthome (1950-59), Major General Riaz Hussain (1959-66), Mohammad Akbar Khan (1966-December 15, 1971), General Ghulam Jillani Khan (December 16, 1971-September 16, 1978), Muhammad Riaz (September 17, 1978-June 20, 1979), Akhtar Abdur Rehman (June 21, 1979-March 29,1987), Hameed Gul (March 29, 1987-May 29, 89), Shamsur Rehman Kallu (May 30, 1989-August 1990), Asad Durrani (August 1990-March 13, 1992), Javed Nasir (March 14, 1992-May 13, 1993), Javed Ashraf Qazi (May 14, 1993-1995), Naseem Rana (October 1995-October 1998), Ziauddin Butt (October 1998-October 12, 1999), Mahmud Ahmed (October 20, 1999- October 7, 2001), Ehsanul Haq (October 7, 2001-October 5, 2004), Ashfaque Parvez Kiyani (October 5, 2004-October 8, 2007), Nadeem Taj (October 9, 2007-October 1, 2008), Ahmad Shuja Pasha (October 1, 2008-March 19, 2012), Zaheerul Islam (March 19, 2012-November 27, 2014), Rizwan Akhtar (November 7, 2014-December 11, 2016) and Naveed Mukhtar (December 11, 2016-October 25, 2018), Lieutenant-General Syed Asim Munir Ahmed Shah (October 25, 2018 to June 16, 2019) and Lt. General Faiz Hameed (June 17, 2019 to October 6, 2021).

Interestingly, only one ISI boss Lt Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has gone on to become the Chief of the Army Staff during the last 73 years.

Coming back to ISI’s early days, research shows that Major General Robert Cawthome had laid down the basic principles of the ISI, together with a Pakistan Navy Commander, Syed Muhammad Ahsan, who is officially acknowledged to have played an integral part in managing the recruitment and expansion of this world class spy agency.

At that time, Syed Muhammad Ahsan was serving as Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence.

After his retirement, Cawthome moved back to the United Kingdom and lived there till his death.

It is pertinent to note that a former Pakistani Foreign Minister, Lieutenant Colonel Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan (later three-star general), had also served the ISI as General Staff Officer (GSO-1) in those days.

The February 28, 2012 edition of a prestigious British newspaper “The Telegraph” had stated: “Colonel Syed Shahid Hamid was the first boss of the ISI. He was succeeded by Robert Cawthome, who was followed by Brigadier Hussain, whose rule began in 1959 and ended in 1966.”

The July 28, 2008 edition of “The Australian” had maintained: “The ISI dates back to 1948 when it was established as the brainchild of an Australian-born British Army officer, Major General Cawthome, the then deputy chief of staff in the Pakistan Army.”

The research further reveals that the first ISI boss, Lieutenant-Colonel Shahid Hamid, had conceived the idea of ISI on July 14, 1948. Later, he was promoted to two-star rank of Major-General and was appointed as Director-General of the Military Intelligence by Major-General (R) Iskandar Mirza (later sworn in as the first President of Pakistan), who was serving as the Defence Secretary at that time.

However, Major General Shahid Hamid had left on June 20, 1950 to command the Peshawar Brigade, looking after the Khyber Pass and Landi Kotal etc, and Major-General Robert Cawthome was given the command of the agency.

The first ISI building was situated in Karachi on the Junction of Abdullah Haroon Road (Old Victoria Street) and Hidayatullah Road.

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