Pakistan picks new intelligence director

The Pakistani government has selected a new chief for its powerful intelligence service, the ISI, replacing a figure the Bush administration has long suspected of ties to Taliban extremists and other militant groups in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

An army statement released late Monday announced the appointment of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha to the ISI post, according to the Associated Press. Pasha, said to be close to army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, will replace Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who was chosen for the post by retired Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president.

Bush administration officials expressed cautious optimism about the appointment of Pasha, the director general of military operations for the Pakistani army since 2005. “It is a chance for the new government to work out a set of new directions for the ISI,” one official said.

The administration and Congress have repeatedly expressed concern that ties between the Pakistani intelligence service and the Taliban have undermined U.S. and NATO efforts to stem cross-border attacks by Pakistan-based extremists.

U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, said last month that he was certain there was “a level of ISI complicity” with the Taliban and other extremist organizations. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has raised similar complaints. The Pakistani government acknowledged that rogue intelligence officers might be involved with extremists but denied allegations of high-level support from the ISI, which stands for Inter-Services Intelligence.

Beginning with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani's visit to Washington in May, the administration has pressed his government to take control of the ISI.