Consolidating his hold on the military, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday appointed chief of the country's powerful spy agency ISI General Ahsanul Haq as chairman of the joint chiefs of military staff after promoting him to the rank of four-star general.
He also promoted Karachi corps commander Ahsan Saleem Hayat, who escaped an assassination attempt by militants in June, and appointed him as vice chief of army.
While General Haq will be replacing General Muhammad Aziz Khan, General Hayat will be taking over from General Yousaf Khan, who is also retiring.
The appointments by Musharraf, who has given strong and open hints in the recent weeks to continue in uniform, were seen as key to retain his hold on the army if he were to continue as president and chief of army till 2007.
The appointments were seen as a first phase of a major exercise of reshuffle of top commanders by Musharraf to prepare the army for a 'paradigm shift' in thinking and orientation to fit into the modern, progressive and welfare Islamic state he envisaged.
A major reshuffle of corps commanders was expected to follow in the coming days.
Significantly, Musharraf has recently said he would await the retirement of the Gen Aziz and Gen Yousaf before announcing his decision whether to continue as chief of army or not.
The retirement of Gen Aziz without extension was seen as significant as he had played a key role as corps commander in the 1999 Kargil conflict, which ended up in a major debacle for Pakistan.
Hailing from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), Gen Aziz was known for his strong views against India.
Both the retiring generals were appointed by Musharraf to their posts hours before the US military action in Afghanistan, weeks after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which prompted Pakistan to reverse its pro-Taliban policy.
The two superceded the then ISI Chief Gen Mahmood and Deputy Chief of Army Staff Gen Usmani, considered as
pro-Taliban Generals, who resigned in protest.
Also, Gen Haq was appointed as ISI Chief after 9/11 attacks and his elevation was seen as a reward for his loyalty and for ensuring smooth transition after the fall of Taliban government in Afghanistan and the crackdown on al Qaeda and jehadi militant groups.
Interestingly, Gen Haq is due for retirement in April 2005, while Gen Hayat is slated to retire in Dec, 2004. However by the virtue of rule that all the top generals of Pakistan Army serve in their posts for three years, the two would virtually continue till 2007 covering the tenure of Musharraf.
Haq has superseded at least seven Lt Generals, while Gen Hayat is listed as number four in the army's seniority hierarchy.
The superseded generals whose retirement was almost due was expected to quit to pave the way for a major reshuffle in the top echelons of the army.
Significantly, Musharraf chose to retain the post of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) with the army, disregarding the past tradition of rotating it along with chiefs of Navy and Air Force.
The step was an attempt to consolidate his hold on the army, which was important for his continuation in power.
Pakistan's 500,000 strong army has around 12 Lt Generals, eight of which were listed as corps commanders,
heading some of important divisions of the army.