Beyond the bare details of his résumé, American officials acknowledge they know little of General Islam, a tall man in his 50s with a flop of black hair, except that he comes across as taciturn, thoughtful and passionate about sports.
His first trip to the United States in 1984, he fondly told one American official recently, was to attend the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. A decade later, while attending a course at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., he adapted his cricket skills for use on a local baseball team.
“He seemed to be saying, ‘Look, I can master your sport, too,’ ” the official noted, speaking on condition of anonymity because it was a private conversation.
Common ground may be harder to find, though, when General Islam meets with American officials, including David H. Petraeus, the Central Intelligence Agency director, at a time of American frustration and distrust toward the ISI.
Relations between Pakistani and American spies reached a low point in the past year after a series of contentious episodes, including the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the shooting of two Pakistanis by a C.I.A. contractor, Raymond A. Davis, and continuing accusations that the ISI is shielding Islamist militants.
From Wednesday, Mr. Petraeus and General Islam will seek to rebuild a counterterrorism relationship that has severely frayed, Pakistani and American officials said.
“Petraeus will try to forge a relationship with him,” one senior Obama administration official said. “We’ve got business to do. Let’s get on with it.”
Since his appointment to Pakistan’s pre-eminent intelligence post in March, General Islam has maintained a conspicuously low profile in Pakistan. After being featured in a handful of newspaper articles filled with starchy compliments typically reserved for powerful generals, he largely disappeared from view —by most accounts, a deliberate strategy.
Long feared as a blunt instrument of army power, the ISI has undergone unusual turmoil over the past 12 months. The Bin Laden raid, which took place under the ISI’s nose, dented its prestige among the public and, equally important, inside the army. The killing of an investigative journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, widely viewed as an ISI job, brought international condemnation.
In politics, General Islam’s predecessor, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, had became embroiled in a political crisis that at one point threatened to bring down President Asif Ali Zardari’s government.
And the Supreme Court, headed by a strong-willed judge, has raised difficult questions about the ISI role in numerous human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, and a multimillion-dollar election-rigging campaign that the agency ran in the early 1990s.
“There’s been a lot of commotion,” said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with the research group Stratfor. “So now it makes sense for General Islam to pull back, reassess, see where things are going.”
In contrast with General Pasha, who was known for his sharp-tongued, sometimes impassioned private outbursts, General Islam is described as a low-profile operator, happy to take a back seat in meetings. “He is cool as a cucumber,” said a serving ISI officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But he has maintained General Pasha’s short rein on C.I.A. activities in Pakistan.
One senior American official says the ISI now treats its American counterparts with deep hostility. C.I.A. visas are frequently refused, and its officials are periodically stopped and searched. Meanwhile, Pakistani employees of the American Embassy and consulates have come under intense intimidation: subjected to strip searches, kept in prison for weeks, induced to “turn” against America, and sometimes threatened with weapons, the official said.
“It’s Moscow rules,” he said. “The ISI has become very K.G.B.-like — but without the restraint.”
A senior ISI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied such accusations, and blamed the C.I.A. for souring a once-close relationship through displays of arrogance. During the January 2011 controversy over Mr. Davis, General Pasha was furious that the former C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, had initially denied that Mr. Davis worked for the agency.
Last summer the previous C.I.A. station chief, who had stormy relations with General Pasha, left his post after just five months, ostensibly for health reasons. He has since been replaced with an undercover officer who officials from both sides say is more open to strengthening the C.I.A.’s relationship with the ISI.
Declan Walsh reported from Islamabad, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington and Islamabad. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Salman Masood from Rawalpindi, Pakistan.R Soft Web Hosting