Pakistan’s new interior minister, appointed in a major cabinet reshuffle this month by Prime Minister Imran Khan, is a former spy chief and close ally of the country’s last military ruler who has long been accused of deep ties to militant groups.
The appointment of retired Brigadier Ijaz Shah has been heavily criticised by the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), whose slain former leader Benazir Bhutto regarded him as a deadly enemy.
Some analysts said it suggested Pakistan’s powerful military continued to wield heavy influence over the civilian administration - a persistent allegation since Khan took office eight months ago that both his government and the generals deny.
In an interview with the BBC after his appointment, Shah said: “What power can I give the military as interior minister? I left the army a long time ago, I am a civilian and have participated in elections.”
The prime minister’s office and the information ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Shah was among four members of the civilian-military establishment named by Bhutto in a letter written to then President Pervez Musharraf months before her assassination as suspects who should be investigated if she was killed.
Many Pakistanis have long suspected that elements of the intelligence agencies colluded with militants in Bhutto’s assassination in a gun and bomb attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in December 2007. An investigation at the time blamed an al-Qaeda-allied Pakistani Taliban leader.
Shah oversaw the surrender of wanted militant Omar Saeed Shaikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in 2002.
That contributed to allegations he had been close to Islamist groups based along lawless border with Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s security services have long been accused of playing a double game.
“The biggest controversy is his links with the Afghan jihad and figures like Omar Saeed Sheikh,” author and analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told Reuters, a longstanding critic of Pakistan’s military. “Looks very much like the army chief’s choice.”