Pakistan's Mysterious New Spymaster

As Pakistan copes with a spate of terrorist violence and political unrest, Bush administration officials worry that they know too little about the man who was just appointed to lead the Muslim nation's sprawling spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Last week, Islamabad disclosed that ISI's new chief will be Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Pakistan's former director of military operations and a protégé of Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the country's top commander. Kiyani, who once headed ISI and took training courses in the U.S., is admired and trusted by American defense and intelligence officials. But they don't know much about Pasha beyond his close ties to Kiyani and that he ran operations against militants who turned tribal regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan into a terrorist safe haven.

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said they believe that U.S. complaints about alleged collaboration between ISI and Taliban fighters played a role in the departure of ISI's former commander, Gen. Nadeem Taj. This past summer, according to one of the officials, the U.S. presented Pakistan with a dossier outlining alleged treachery inside ISI, including purported contacts between ISI representatives and Taliban militants who attacked India's embassy in Kabul on July 7.

Washington's chief concern is whether the new ISI boss, who is not a career spy, will have the skill and clout to purge the agency of elements sympathetic to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Some U.S. experts say the service is so inscrutable that it may harbor secret factions that are working at cross-purposes to the interests of the U.S. and Pakistan. "Nothing tells me they are ready to break the link between ISI and Afghan Taliban," said Bruce Riedel, a retired CIA expert on the region. Washington relies heavily on ISI for intel on militants. Historically, says a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who also asked for anonymity, 80 percent of credible U.S. intel about terrorists in Pakistan originated with ISI.