Reshuffle in Pakistan army as new govt takes office
Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Reuters, ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's army chief has made changes to important posts in the military as a new civilian government made up of opponents of former army chief President Pervez Musharraf prepares to take power.

The changes by army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, announced late on Monday, were the first major reshuffle in the army's top ranks since Musharraf stepped down as army chief in November.

The military has ruled more than half of Pakistan's 60 years of independence and changes in the army's leadership have always been closely watched.

Security analysts said the changes were routine but with some of the commanders Musharraf promoted being replaced, they reflected the increasingly isolated president's waning influence in the powerful military.

The most important changes involved commanders of two of the army's nine corps.

Lieutenant-General Shafaat Ullah Shah, a close confidante of Musharraf, was replaced as commander of a Lahore-based corps.

Shah was appointed chief of logistics staff at army headquarters and was replaced by Lieutenant General Ijaz Ahmed Bakhshi, the military said in a statement.

Lieutenant-General Sajjad Akram, the commander of another corps based in the city of Mangla, was appointed deputy head of a government agency set up to oversee rehabilitation in areas devastated by an October 2005 earthquake.

The former deputy of the earthquake rehabilitation agency, Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, was made commander of the Mangla-based corps.

NEW CHIEF "ESTABLISHING WRIT"

Musharraf's political allies suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the opposition in a Feb. 18 general election.

The party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto won the most seats and is forming a coalition government with the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, which came second.

Sharif, the prime minister then army chief Musharraf ousted in 1999, has called for Musharraf to resign and there is speculation the new government could try to force the president from office, which might trigger instability.

Army chief Kayani said this month the military would stay out of politics, increasing doubts whether the army, for years Musharraf's main source of power, would go out on a limb to back him in the event of confrontation with the elected government.

"With the reshuffle of Musharraf's loyal corps commanders Kayani is establishing his writ over the army without appearing precipitate," said one security analyst who declined to be identified.

The News newspaper said the new appointments showed "the sands of power were shifting from those till now running the show for almost a decade".

"The changes in the army command will hopefully enable the new army chief to fully support the new political system and play the role of neutral member of the power troika which President Pervez Musharraf has envisaged some months ago," it said.

Musharraf sees the country being run by the prime minister with the help of the president and army chief.

Pakistan's Western allies are worried about more instability in the nuclear-armed country, an important U.S. security ally that is already under attack from within by militants inspired by al Qaeda.

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