Much though will depend on the path army chief Gen Raheel Sharif decides to take. By the end of his six years as army chief, retired Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had presided over an unmitigated political disaster at the ISI, with successive ISI chiefs taking on the political government of the day.
First, Gen Shuja Pasha engaged in open warfare with the PPP-led government and tried his utmost to turn the so-called Memogate episode into the political downfall of then-president Asif Zardari. Later, Gen Pasha, now retired, became embroiled in allegations about the rise of the PTI.
Gen Zaheerul Islam appeared initially to take a more apolitical line than his predecessor and notably the May 2013 general election saw little interference by the ISI. But then the ISI under him also became embroiled in a staggering alleged conspiracy to topple the PML-N government through anti-government street protests led by Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan.
That alleged conspiracy was never proved and as the outgoing ISI chief made his farewell call on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday, there was little sign anywhere nationally that the PML-N government is in imminent trouble. Yet, the general, like his predecessor, will leave office under a cloud of suspicion.
The challenge for Gen Raheel Sharif will be to put the ISI back on the right track. The intelligence agency may be a powerful and vast entity, but it is not bigger than its parent organisation, the armed forces, especially the army.
In an ideal world, the ISI would be reporting to the prime minister and taking its policy directions from that office, so the question of political interference would not arise. But recent events have amply demonstrated, as if a reminder were needed, that the Pakistan of today is far from an ideal world, especially in the civil-military arena.
Gen Sharif, and incoming ISI chief Gen Rizwan Akhtar, would do well to consider how much a politicised ISI hurts the organisation’s core mission of gathering intelligence on threats external and internal to the security of the state and safety of the public.
The ISI can become a vital state institution for reasons that are good rather than the endless controversies it seems to plunge itself, and the country, into. Generals Sharif and Akhtar could provide that better direction.