Musharraf Brings Moderates
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Copyright 2001 FT Asia Africa Intelligence Wire
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Copyright 2001 The Hindu 

October 9, 2001

LENGTH: 477 words

HEADLINE: India: Musharraf brings moderates to the fore

NEW DELHI, OCT. 8. In removing the present ISI chief and shifting the corp commander in Lahore, Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has taken a big risk in consolidating his hold over the military.

This move could backfire in the long-run as Punjabis, who have been the anchor of the Pakistani military, are no longer represented in the army top brass, Government sources here said. On the contrary, Gen. Musharraf's gambit could payoff in case he manages to steer the transition in the Pakistan's military and politics successfully after fine-tuning the new setup.

In a late night decision on Sunday, Gen. Musharraf removed Lt. General Mehmood Ahmad as chief of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence and replaced him with Lt. Gen. Ehsanul Haq, corp commander of Peshawar. He also moved Lt. Gen. Mohammad Aziz, his right hand man both during the Kargil war and in engineering the military coup which brought him to power. Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Hussein Usmani, who also played a key role in bringing Gen. Musharraf to power has sought "premature retirement". These changes are highly significant as political power in Pakistan has traditionally rested with the Chief of Army Staff and his top corp commanders.

Government sources here say that Gen. Musharraf has sought to rid his team of corps commanders of "hardliners" who have reportedly opposed him in the recent past and are known to be sympathisers of radical Islamic groups. Instead, he has sought to cobble together a more "moderate" elite around him, presumably to push forward Pakistan's new pro-Western Afghan policy. But this effort to bring moderates to the fore may backfire as it could, notwithstanding the professionalism in the Pakistani military, alienate the powerful lobby of Punjabi officers.

The shifting of Lt. Gen. Aziz especially is likely to be unpopular within the Pakistani military establishment as he has had a reputation of being an influential officer. Besides, his movement away from Lahore, the very heart of Punjab, may not also be liked.

Sources point out that the decision on shifting Lt. Gen. Aziz is also likely to be linked to an anticipation of religious unrest in Punjab following U.S. and British air strikes on Afghanistan. Analysts here point out that Gen. Musharraf can live with demonstrations of religious extremism in the border provinces of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan, but can ill-afford widespread unrest in Punjab.

Not surprisingly, he badly needs a "loyalist" in Punjab who can speedily execute hard decisions, if required.

Sources clarified that Gen. Musharraf's decision to change the complexion of the Pakistani military must have been taken in "consultation" with the U.S. and Britain.

Consequently, considerable importance is being attached here to the Blair mission to Islamabad last week.

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