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October 10, 2001
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Musharraf regime aimed for image makeover with army reshuffle: Experts

Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi

Though India heaved a sigh of relief after Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf sidelined hardcore Islamist elements in the military establishment, defence analysts warned that New Delhi should be prepared not to depend on foreign help in fighting cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Those affected by the reshuffle included former Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt-Gen Mahmood Ahmed and former deputy chief of army staff Lt-Gen Muzaffar Hussain Usmani.

Both are well-known protagonists of increased militancy in J&K and diehard supporters of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.

Lt-Gen Ahmed's nemesis apparently was his alleged 'credible links' with one of the three militants, Umer Sheikh, released by India in exchange for the passengers of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, which was hijacked to Kandahar.

Government officials on Tuesday said that India had informed the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about these links.

Analysts point out that the US had been putting relentless pressure on Musharraf to clip the wings of the hardcore Islamist elements in the army leadership.

Sreedhar, defence analyst at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses pointed out that India alerting the FBI on the Lt-Gen Ahmed-Umer Sheikh nexus was timely and that the hardliners on Taleban and J&K had been dealt a body if not a felling blow by the reshuffle.

However, ministry of external affairs spokeswoman Nirupama Rao, while pointing out that the US was apprised about Indian concerns in this context, virtually upbraided those who apprehended that India was banking too much on the US to help end terrorism in J&K.

"India has not asked anybody to pull its chestnuts out of the fire," Rao asserted.

Significantly, international media reports has mentioned that it was at Lt-Gen Ahmed's behest that Umer Sheikh had transferred $100,000 into the account of Mohammed Atta, one of the kingpins in the September 11 terrorist strikes in the US.

"Gen Musharraf is giving his military regime an image makeover to give it a patina of moderation," pointed out G Parthasarathy, former high commissioner to Pakistan.

Parthasarathy was among the first to warn against any illusion about any let-up in cross-border terrorism after Gen Musharraf took over.

"It was Gen Musharraf who had emphasized that whatever the turn of events, he would ensure the continuance of a low intensity conflict in J&K," he emphasised.

The developments have not made a significant impression on the thinking in the army, which is spearheading the fight against terrorism in J&K.

"At best, it is a temporary relief for our security forces. We are not taking chances and will continue our fight until terrorism is rooted out in J&K," said Maj-Gen Richard Khare, Additional Director-General of military intelligence.

Major-Gen Khare, who has just returned from J&K, pointed out that infiltration from across the border continued and the presence of foreign, mainly Afghan, militants has not diminished.

"We will have to wait for some time to see if the reshuffle has any fallout on terrorism in J&K," he said.

"However, there is a possibility that Pakistan will now attempt to distance itself from terrorist activities, at least temporarily."

India cannot afford to be complacent because Musharraf continues to term terrorism in J&K as an indigenous freedom struggle being waged by Kashmiris, he pointed out.

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