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Pakistan spy chief gets one-year extension

ISLAMABAD, March 10 (Reuters) - Pakistan’s prime minister has extended the term of the head of the country’s main intelligence agency by a year in a move expected to reinforce efforts to fight Islamic militancy.

Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, director general of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, was due to retire this month but will remain in office for another year, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s office said in a statement.

Pasha, a former head of military operations for Pakistan’s Army, was appointed head of the ISI in September 2008, months after U.S. officials questioned the reliability of the spy agency in the campaign against militancy.

Such questions have largely ended under his leadership, however, since security forces mounted big offensives against militants in the northwest over the past year.

The powerful ISI has often taken the lead in combating militants, who have been attacking the agency as well as other security and government targets. It also plays a major role in foreign policy.

As such, India and Afghanistan view the spy agency with great suspicion, and it is often referred to as a “state within a state.” Pakistan’s civilian politicians also fear it for its role in previous coups.

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(For full coverage of Pakistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK])

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Backed by the United States in the 1980s, the ISI spearheaded efforts to support Islamist guerrillas battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

It is also believed to have been heavily involved in backing a separatist insurgency against Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region.

And even though the ISI and other agencies captured hundreds of al Qaeda fighters after the September 2001 attacks, it has long been suspected of turning a blind eye to Afghan Taliban fighters operating out of Pakistan, seeing them as leverage against Indian influence in Afghanistan.

But the recent arrest of several Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan has led to speculation that the ISI is changing its position on the militants in anticipation of some sort of Afghan peace process and the departure of Western forces. (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see:here an) (Reporting by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ch ris Allbritton)

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