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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Musharraf shakes up Pakistan army
Pakistani troops in Peshawar
The army is being tested by pro-Taleban supporters
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf ordered a major restructuring of the upper echelons of his army - just hours before the US-led strikes on Afghanistan.

This is the signal we have been waiting for

Western diplomat
In a key move, the head of Pakistan's intelligence service (ISI), General Mahmood Ahmed, has been replaced. General Ahmed, who has close links to Afghanistan's ruling Taleban, is now reported to have retired.

President Musharraf attempted to downplay the significance of the reshuffle when he spoke to journalists in Islamabad on Monday.

"This is a normal military activity. It has no relation with events that are taking place in Afghanistan," the Pakistani leader said.

However, correspondents say the reshuffle greatly reduces the influence of pro-Taleban supporters inside the army.

Failed talks

General Ahmed also played a key role in the November 1999 coup in which General Musharraf ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

President Musharraf
Musharraf: Tried to downplay the reshuffle

General Ahmed was also a leading figure in recent weeks in the failed attempts to persuade the Taleban to hand over Osama Bin Laden, whom Washington has named as the prime suspect in the 11 September terror attacks on America.

He led one delegation to talks in the Taleban stronghold, Kandahar, and later was part of another delegation led by Pakistani clerics.

The intelligence service that he headed has been a consistent supporter of the Taleban in its prolonged civil war with the Northern Alliance.

But President Musharraf, under enormous pressure from the United States, has reversed his support for the Taleban, although Pakistan remains the only country to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taleban.

"This is the signal we have been waiting for," a western diplomat told the AFP news agency in Islamabad.

Moderate deputy

General Ahmed's replacement as head of the intelligence services is Lieutenant General Ehsanul Haq, an ethnic Pashtun, said to be an expert on Afghanistan and its border areas with Pakistan.

General Mohammad Yusuf has been appointed the new Vice Chief of Army staff. He is widely seen as a moderate within the armed forces, and it is he who would become army leader should anything happen to General Musharraf.

Another key figure in the 1999 coup was Lieutenant General Mohammed Aziz Khan. He has now been moved to become Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee. This is a largely ceremonial post that analysts say removes him from core daily decision making.

In addition, General Musharraf has appointed new commanders to the army garrisons in Peshawar and Quetta, the cities that have seen the first street protests since the raids on Afghanistan began on Sunday evening.

See also:

07 Oct 01 | Americas
US tightens security
08 Oct 01 | Americas
US balancing act
07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden broadcasts his defiance
20 Sep 01 | Americas
The trail to Bin Laden
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
05 Oct 01 | Americas
The investigation and the evidence
03 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
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