ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani army chief General Pervez Kayani is appointing a new head of military intelligence, a newspaper reported on Tuesday, the first major reshuffle in the military since President Pervez Musharraf quit the army.
Musharraf, who seized power as a general in 1999, stepped down as army chief in November to become a civilian president of the country, which has been ruled by the military for more than half of the 60 years since its independence.
Top military appointments in the country are always closely watched as Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have long held influence over successive governments as well as being accused of meddling in the affairs of neighboring Afghanistan and India.
The News reported that Major-General Muhammad Asif, who served as Pakistan’s defense attache in Russia, is replacing Major-General Nadeem Ijaz as director general of Military Intelligence (MI).
Ijaz, a close confidante of Musharraf, has worked as head of MI for more than three years, the normal length of service. MI and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are the Pakistani military’s two main security agencies.
Military spokesmen were not immediately available for comments.
A month before his retirement from the army, Musharraf appointed Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj, a former head of MI and his former military secretary, as director-general of ISI.
“Obviously, as time goes by, he (Kayani) will be appointing people of his choice, those who are professionally sound and also enjoy his confidence,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and security analyst.
“At this time, these assignments are extremely vital for the reason that they are also facing internal insurgency as the greatest challenge,” he said.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is a major non-NATO U.S. ally. Its support is seen as crucial for the success of the Western military intervention in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in tribal lands on the Afghan border.
Militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban have stepped up their campaign of attacks across Pakistan in recent months and hundreds of people have been killed.
The army’s top medical officer and seven other people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Rawalpindi, where the army headquarters is based, on Monday.
Lieutenant-General Mushtaq Ahmed Baig was the most senior military officer killed by militants to date.
A general election on Monday last week was meant to complete a transition back to civilian rule. Two opposition parties that won the most seats are in the process of forming a government.
Kayani has taken several steps to keep the military out of politics including ordering all officers out of posts in the civil service, and barring officers from meeting politicians.
Editing by David Fox