Any man riding a lion would seem threatening. More than who he is, what matters is what he’s on. The position of DG ISI is one of the most powerful in the country, perhaps second only to the COAS. It wields extraordinary influence, to create and obliterate, to hide and expose, to forgive and to punish – whatever is deemed appropriately inappropriate or vice versa. In today’s context, which is never detached from yesterday and tomorrow, the appointment of the new DG ISI after the likely retirement of Lieutenant-General Zaheer-ul-Islam will be viewed to determine the state of civil-military relations. Names will emerge – Raheel’s men and Nawaz’s men – COAS General Raheel will advise and PM Nawaz will ultimately decide. The entire episode will be used to peek into the minds of the powers that be and those aspiring to be.

Either way, Nawaz has to pick a man from an institution, which enjoys autonomy for all intents and purposes, and that man will not even be answerable to him. Of course, the DG ISI is answerable to the PM as per the Constitution, but that is not how it actually works. No one knows this better than Nawaz. But knowing better has never stopped him from giving it a shot. Within bad choices, there are better choices. If Nawaz has a favourite, and he usually does, will he go on to appoint him? And what about Raheel’s favourite? What if the two are not the same person? At this critical juncture, when the government is struggling to pacify protestors demanding its dismissal, will Nawaz try to assert himself? Can he afford to? Can he afford not to? If he raises the white flag on this occasion, what will it mean for the rest of his days in office? The last time Nawaz was faced with this decision, he appointed Lieutenant-General Ziauddin Khwaja. He then tried to elevate him to Pervez Musharraf’s position, the COAS, and the rest is history. In any case, one is forced to ponder over the state of democracy in this country, where exercising constitutionally mandated executive authority in its true spirit, could be the worst mistake the PM could make.