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Former ISI chief declares support for Imran Khan, revealing rifts in Pak military

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It takes time to support Imran Khan" Former DG ISI Lt Gen (retd) Zaheerul Islam addresses the ceremony

The split in an apparently cohesive Pakistani army is getting wider by the day as Lt. General (retired) Zaheerul Islam the, the former chief of Pakistan’s notorious spy agency, the  Inter-State Services (ISI) has come out openly in support of the ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan.

There are strong “rumours” that Imran Khan has selected the ex- ISI boss as a PTI candidate for the next general elections. The PTI leaders have been denying the speculation, but Islam was seen campaigning for a PTI candidate in a by-election in Rawalpindi  for the Pakistani National Assembly. 

“The Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan is the need of the hour,” Islam said,  praising Imran Khan during campaigns.

Like former ISI chief Lt General Faiz Hameed, his predecessor  Islam too was attached with Imran Khan to help him to come to power. 

In a video clip Zaheerul Islam is seen mocking the Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s “neutrality”.

“In politics we have to take sides. But I am “neutral” and as a neutral I say that Imran Khan is the need of the hour.”

Unlike Faiz Hameed, Islam remained mostly out of the spotlight and yet, he managed to cast a shadow over many major events especially during  his tenure as the ISI chief between 2012-2014. Prior to this, he was the Director General of Counter Terrorism Wing and was assigned to the “Project Imran Khan” by the establishment. This was the time when the then ISI chief General Shuja Pasha, Islam and Faiz Hameed became close to Imran Khan. 

According to Pakistan watchers, in 2014,during the 126-day-long dharna by Imran Khan and his PTI party against the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had full support of Pakistani army. Islam and Hameed are believed to have played key role in this. In fact, senior leaders of Nawaz Sharif’s ruling party blamed the two for engineering unrest and supporting all kinds of support for Khan. 

According to Pakistani experts, Islam had a personal  grudge against Nawaz Sharif and his senior ministers of the ruling party. Sharif had handed over a video recording to then army chief Raheel Sharif in which Islam was talking about raiding Nawaz Sharif’s residence. But Raheel did not take any action, In 2017, Nawaz Sharif was “removed” from his office and in 2018, the army made Imran Khan the Prime Minister. 

"I was told to step down and go home. I said whatever you want to do, do it, I will not resign from the office of the prime minister],” Nawaz Sharif had told Dawn referring Islam’s audio conversation.

Though Islam was not given any post, he continued to advise Khan. According to Pakistani watcher, Palwasha Zai Khan, National Assembly member of the ruling PPP party claimed that Islam had secretly married her. She also filed a case in a court  for alimony for his son Shamsherul Islam. She also initiated legal proceedings for a divorce from the former ISI chief.

Islam has a strong military background. His father, brothers and brother-in-law had also served in the army. His uncle, Shah Nawaz, was a major general in the Indian National Army, led by Subhas Chandra Bose, and was captured and detained by the British briefly in the early 1940s.

India Narrative had earlier reported that the veterans of the Pakistani security establishment had openly opposed Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and exhorted him to hold elections immediately. What was surprising was that these veterans were openly supporting the ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan. They said in statement that the external forces played their role in forming this government and were the internal elements who helped the external forces in forming this government. 

Pakistani watchers believe that the Pakistani military establishment’s “hybrid” experiment has failed but it has managed to divide the Pakistani army. There are generals and army officers who were against Bajwa’s decision to “abandon”  Khan. Many retired generals are seen arguing on TV channels in favour of Khan and against using the judiciary to push the PTI leader out. 

“We know how Ayub Khan sold Pakistan’s sovereignty to the United States and allowed it to build an airbase in Peshawar. From that day until today, this country has been under the control of the United States,” said Brigadier (Rtd) and security analyst, Mian Mahmood. 

This is the first time in Pakistan’s history when a civilian leader is targeting the country’s powerful military establishment and even forcing its officers to pick sides. Every social media account of Imran Khan’s party has stepped up its attack on General Bajwa and asked serving and retired officers to support the ousted premier. 

Also Read: Has Pak army scrapped pensions of officers who backed Imran Khan and opposed Gen. Bajwa?