ISLAMABAD  - As the incumbent Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha is going to retire on March 18, the government is said to be mulling over five names to appoint his successor instead of giving extension to him for the third time.

The ISI DG has earlier been given one-year extension twice and now he is unlikely to get another one.

A private TV channel reported that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is the appointing authority of the ISI DG, is considering five names, which are Lt-Gen Javed Iqbal, Lt-Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam, Lt-Gen Rashid Mehmood, Lt-Gen Muhamamd Asif and Major-General Noshad Kayani.

The appointment of Pasha’s successor has assumed greater significance in the backdrop of recent tensions between the civilian government and the military establishment.

However, the prime minister has the absolute authority to appoint the future spymaster. It is unlikely that the civilian government would take the decision arbitrarily without military’s inputs.

According to British newspaper Financial Times, The succession question has triggered barely a ripple in Pakistan’s normally boisterous media, with some pundits betting that the army will solve the dilemma by pushing for Lt-Gen Pasha to stay on for a year. But the issue is being keenly watched by the Obama administration.

Several ex-army officers believe one of the most likely candidates is Lieutenant General Muhammad Zahirul Islam, who commands troops in Karachi. A seasoned officer who has served in a top ISI post, he enjoys a rapport with General Ashfaq Kayani, the powerful army chief.

Lt Gen Pasha, who was appointed director-general in September, 2008, has earned a reputation for professionalism among US officials.

Other possible options may include Lieutenant General Rashad Mahmood, who is serving in Lahore, and Major General Isfandyar Pataudi, who impressed instructors during a stint at the US Army War College.