October 17, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ Amir Mir

With the removal, on October 8, of the pro-Taleban Inter Services Intelligence director general, Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, Pakistan's fourth military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf has attempted to change the army's image from one which scared the West as potentially fundamentalist to an outfit with a liberal and moderate face.

During the regime of Pakistan's first military ruler, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the Army was considered moderate and a crucial ally of the West. Its outlook underwent a drastic transformation during the days of Pakistan's third military ruler, General Zia-ul Haq. But if Zia is to be remembered for altering the military's moderate character, Musharraf should be remembered for restoring its original liberal character, say observers.

They believe the army reshuffle will allow Musharraf to go a long way in transforming Pakistan into a modern liberal State. "The departure of the pro-Taleban generals has removed a potential ideological threat to Musharraf from within his ranks," says a retired general.

The recent reshuffle in the Pakistan army saw two new generals, a new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, the premature retirement of the ISI chief and deputy chief of army staff and shifting of several corps commanders.

The reshuffle was done the day the US and allied forces launched their much-awaited attacks on Afghanistan. Military analysts in Pakistan, therefore, describe it as a move to sideline all those elements in the country's mighty military hierarchy who were not considered to be like-minded in 'the present demanding set of circumstances.'

In a late night development, Lieutenant General Mohammed Aziz, corps commander of Lahore, was promoted to the rank of general and named chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee while Lieutenant General Ehsan-ul Haq, corps commander of Peshawar, was named the new director general of the ISI. He superseded Mahmood, who decided to retire. With Mahmood's exit, sources said, the Americans are hopeful of getting some desperately needed intelligence with regard to Taleban military bases and the whereabouts of their Arab guests (including Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks).

Diplomatic sources in Lahore claimed the Americans had complained to Musharraf about how Mahmood was not providing the US with intelligence inputs that were crucial to track bin Laden, despite making a firm commitment in this regard during his recent visit to Washington. Even otherwise, sources said, Musharraf felt threatened by Mahmood for quite some time now.

The ISI director general is not only responsible for important intelligence operations, such as Afghanistan and Kashmir, he also works as the eyes and ears of the chief executive both on the domestic political front and in the independent monitoring of the armed forces. "Mahmood became a victim of his over-ambition as he basked in powers he was enjoying as Pakistan's super spymaster. He tried to outmanoeuvre his seniors in hasty moves to grab the coveted office of vice-chief of army staff. In the end, he fell flat on his face," said another analyst.

Meanwhile, along with Lieutenant General Muhammad Aziz Khan, Lieutenant General Muhammad Yusuf, who is the chief of general staff of the Pakistan army, was also promoted to the rank of general and appointed as vice-chief of the army staff. With these two promotions and the two premature retirements of ISI chief Mahmood and deputy chief of the army staff, Lieutenant General Muzaffar Usmani (who, like Mahmood, was superseded), the old team of the country's top military made way for new faces as Musharraf's decision to completely overhaul Pakistan's Afghanistan policy started to take shape. Usmani was the senior-most lieutenant general in the Pakistan army.

Because of his promotion as JCSC chairman, widely considered a ceremonial assignment in Pakistan's military hierarchy, Mohammad Aziz Khan -- the only Kashmiri four-star general in the army and the architect of the Kargil adventure -- will no more be involved in active day-to-day consultation. His presence is longer required during the corps commanders meetings, the crucial decision making forum of the Pakistan army.

Sources in the military establishment said the new ISI chief, Ehsan-ul Haq, a Pashtun officer with well-known balanced views, brings with him fresh ideas that will help make Pakistan's policy shift on Afghanistan successful. A senior military official noted it was absolutely essential to have someone like Ehsan-ul Haq head the ISI to meet both government and international expectations for a crucial ISI role in the establishment of a Pakistan-friendly, broad-based moderate government in Afghanistan.

Similarly, Lieutenant General Yusuf is widely known in army circles as a moderate armour corps officer with excellent professional credentials. President Musharraf's preference for Yusuf for the post of vice-chief of army staff had become evident early last week when he ordered Yusuf, in his capacity as chief of general staff, to oversee the crucial negotiations that the Pakistan army had with a team of visiting US military officials to explore the possibilities of Pak-US cooperation in the latter's military strikes against Afghanistan-based terrorist bases.

Analysts in Lahore maintain the reshuffle was primarily meant to ensure a wholehearted implementation of the changed Afghan policy and to restore a readily acceptable image of Pakistan and its military services. They say Musharraf has taken this bold initiative in order to dilute an impression in some Western countries that Pakistan was running the risk of being taken over by possession of nuclear weapons, could become a global threat.

Having switched to the 'made in USA' ladder, Musharraf apparently seems to be in total command of things, hoping it will take him to the same heights as Zia-ul Haq. Critics, however, say if any military ruler is caught between a rock and a hard place, it is none other than Musharraf; the next few weeks may be crucial in deciding his fate.

Also read: India's reaction

Design: Lynette Menezes

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