The outgoing ISI Chief Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam was widely seen to have been at odds with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is even said that he encouraged the recent protests against the government. But the new chief is hardly going to be any different and the slow clever encirclement of the army around the civilian administration will continue unabated. In 2012, the then army chief retired Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani sent only one name, Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, to the PPP government for appointment as ISI chief. The government had no choice and was recovering from the memogate controversy, so accepted the name without question. The protests are Sharif’s memogate it seems. De jure the ISI officially reports to the prime minister, but de facto, it is controlled by the army chief, in this case General Raheel Sharif. Accepting whatever the military recommends is the only option for Nawaz Sharif, he has nobody on his side except a few parliamentarians and a TV channel.

The new chief, Rizwan Akhtar, was previously the head of the paramilitary Rangers in south-eastern Sindh, and led a comprehensive operation against Islamist groups and criminal gangs in Karachi, thought results of this have hardly been seen. His operation to reduce crime levels in Karachi received a lot of publicity but human rights activists are wary of violations. Then, in early September, he told the Supreme Court that about 19,000 containers had gone missing from Karachi port a few years ago and that a shipload of arms and ammunition had been brought to Karachi and their whereabouts were never determined. The US embassy refuted these claims and they were taken back by the Major-General. Was the US avoiding controversy, or was Akhtar too honest for his own good? Was he just clueless? What’s in store for the ISI and its meddlings in Afghanistan and the Taliban?

Reuters quote a military official, speaking of Akhtar: “He is a horribly straight guy, all black and white.” This signals to an unbending, undiplomatic character. Much like the new Indian Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who on his first day gave “horribly” straight statements towards Pakistan. But then again, with Indian aggression rearing its head, we need the top brass to have such strong opinions attached to their persona. If we can’t have internal security, lets at least have a strong outward image. In the local context, the main consideration that Gen. Raheel Sharif had was that the appointment should be of someone who would be neutral towards politics and not create any more controversy than exists. But in our nascent democracy, these statements only serve to save face.