The ISI is quite a unique organization; answerable to no one but to its own command and the COAS, its vast portfolio includes assignments conventional for a spy agency as well as tasks that fall outside its constitutional mandate. Within Pakistan, it is simultaneously hailed as a savior and condemned for its wrongdoings. One set of people claims that Pakistan owes its very survival to the ISI’s consistent hard work and perseverance against tough challenges while the other blames it over misusing its power for meddling in politics, managing media and committing human rights violations.

Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar takes over as DG ISI at a time of great security challenges and political instability. His predecessors, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha and Lt Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam, have both served terms mired with controversy. The latest accusation against the agency is that of supporting the PTI-PAT long march on Islamabad to pressurize or oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Due to the fear and hopelessness surrounding most quarters, very few sincere and meaningful calls for reform in the ISI are ever made. For those who criticize it, it is a lost cause, far too powerful to be reasoned with, far too ambitious to be stopped and turned around. Those in favour of its current role deem it necessary to allow the organization to operate with immunity in a highly complicated and sensitive environment. They believe that political meddling in the agency’s affairs will weaken it and render it ineffective to the detriment of the country’s security.

Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see what the new DG ISI brings to the table. It is rather naïve to expect heads of fairly political entities, such as the Army and the ISI, to be completely apolitical. The role and functions of their respective institutions simply demand the opposite of them. Still, a lot lies between a zero and a hundred. There is always a scale of things, a relative approach towards affairs. They can’t transform their institutions overnight and completely. One doesn’t expect such from the Parliament or the superior judiciary. It’s simply unrealistic. Yet, an effort ought to be seen, a step towards the right direction and more importantly, a step back where necessary.