INTER-Services Intelligence Chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha has maintained that there will not be a war. "We are distancing ourselves from conflict with India, both now and in general."
He said this while talking to German magazie Spiegel's reporter Susanne Koelbl.
General Pasha has been the head of the ISI for the past three months. He makes a cosmopolitan impression and says he takes his orders from the civilian government.
The 57-year-old General, sitting in his third-floor office in Islamabad, is a short, wiry man with carefully parted hair. He smiles. Instead of a military uniform, he was wearing a gray suit and a stylish pink tie, his elbows resting comfortably on a large, walnut desk.
If anyone in Pakistan knows how close the country currently stands to a military conflict with India, it is General Pasha. "There will not be a war," he says confidently. "We are distancing ourselves from conflict with India, both now and in general."
His words sound promising, and his sentences are unusually calm for a senior military official speaking in the tense aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Pasha said that he too has 'questions'. So far, he said, the Indians have failed to provide evidence to support their claims that Pakistani groups sponsored by the ISI were behind the Mumbai attacks. "They have given us nothing, no numbers, no connections, no names. This is regrettable." Pasha insisted that he was willing to travel to New Delhi to help in the investigation.
If he had done so, Pasha would have been the first director general of the ISI to travel to India, a visit that would have been a minor sensation. Instead, he stayed at home, yielding to the pressure of old antipathies. "Many people here are simply not ready," he said.
"At first we thought there would be a military reaction. The Indians, after the attacks, were deeply offended and furious, but they are also clever," he explained. The General presses his hands together and leaned forward to give emphasis to his words. "We may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know fully well that terror is our enemy, not India."
Responding to a question, Gen Pasha said that he wants to re-establish credibility for his agency.
General Pasha ordered tea served in white English porcelain cups. With its expensive wooden furniture, elegant armchairs and giant flat-screen TV, his office looks more like the conference room in an American five-star hotel than the command centre of an intelligence agency.
Pasha switched back and forth between English and his surprisingly accent-free German. He lived in Germany for a few years in the 1980s, taking part in officer training programs.
"It is completely clear to the army chief and I that this government must succeed. Otherwise we will have a lot of problems in this country," he said solemnly, placing his hands next to each other on the desk. "The result would be problems in the west and the east, political destabilisation and trouble with America," he continued, wrinkling his brow. "Anyone who does not support this democratic government today simply does not understand the current situation." He added: "I report regularly to the president and take orders from him."
But how much control does Pasha have over his own organisation? Many officers, who grew up with rising religious fundamentalism and the concept of India as an enemy, are opposed to the new course taken by President Asif Ali Zardari. They see the war against terrorism as the Americans' war, not theirs. "Many may think in a different direction, and everyone is allowed to think differently, but no one can dare to disobey a command or even do something that was not ordered," the General said quietly.
Pasha appeared on the far right in a photograph that went around the world. Standing next to him is Army Chief Gen Kayani. In the photo both men, together with senior US military commanders, are standing on the US aircraft-carrier 'Abraham Lincoln'. The meeting took place in late August, and the Americans allegedly reached an agreement with the Pakistanis that they would be allowed to fight the leadership of the terrorist network in the tribal regions with armed drones, while Islamabad would put on a show of protesting loudly against the violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.
The General denied that this was the case. "We never discussed that, nor did we agree to it," he explained, shaking his head. "But to be honest, what can we do against the drone attacks? Should we fight the Americans or attack an Afghan post, because that's where the drones are coming from? Can we win this? Does it benefit Pakistan?"
A Major is standing in the doorway, indicating to Pasha that he is running out of time. The General glanced at his watch and motioned to the Major that he will need another five minutes.
Before Pasha's appointment, relations between the American and the Pakistanis had reached a low point. At that time, the ISI was still headed by a close associate of former President Pervez Musharraf, General Nadeem Taj. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) presented Islamabad with a dossier describing close contacts between ISI agents and the Taliban and radical insurgency leaders like the Haqqani clan, as well as warning against US attacks.
Pasha is apparently adept at overcoming old divisions. However, it is worth listening closely when the General explained why he too was unwilling to apprehend the Taliban leadership, even though many claimed that Taliban leader Mullah Omar, for example, was in Quetta, a city where Pasha lived until a few years ago. "Shouldn't they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn't that freedom of opinion?" he asked.
The Major was standing in the doorway again, but this time he won't back down. Pasha stood up and smoothed his gray suit. What will the solution look like for this region, which threatens to descend into chaos? He believed strongly in the West's coalition with Pakistan, said Pasha, and was convinced that by working together, everyone will be able to defeat terror. But it will not, he added, happen punctually and according to plan, as was customary in Germany. The General smiled politely, and then he closed the elevator door.