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In the face of it all, Musharraf is moving vigorously to tilt the odds his way. Besides deploying heavy security forces to contain demonstrations, he put three of the most virulent extremist leaders under house arrest. His most significant actions took place inside the army's barracks. He renewed his term as military chief "indefinitely." And he shook out top generals partial to the Taliban or its brand of fierce Islam who might try to undermine his new policies. Just about everyone was taken off guard, only a few hours before the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan began, when Musharraf smoothly purged three key generals who had engineered the October 1999 coup that brought him to power. He replaced the vice chief of staff with Lieut. General Muhammad Yusuf Khan, a moderate general whose friends call him "Joe." He kicked upstairs to a ceremonial post a key corps commander considered sympathetic to the ideological extreme. He replenished the upper ranks with loyal officers more ready to side with the Taliban's enemies.
Most startling was the premature retirement of trusted friend Lieut. General Mahmoud Ahmad, chief of the formidable Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, widely regarded as the country's invisible government. As a staunch patron of pro-Taliban policies, Ahmad is thought to have opposed Pakistan's new alliance with the U.S. Musharraf had reason to fear that segments of the ISI might thwart promised cooperation with U.S. intelligence. And it is said that Musharraf hit the roof when an ISI-linked jihad group devoted to wresting Muslim Kashmir from Indian control took responsibility for a blast in the Indian city of Srinagar two weeks ago that killed 42. The target and the timing--just when Musharraf was fending off accusations that Pakistan sponsors terrorism and asking Washington to take a more balanced view of the Kashmir dispute--couldn't have been worse.
The new boss of ISI, Lieut. General Ehsan ul- Haq, is regarded as moderate, professional and without political ambition. But some wonder if he is ruthless enough to overhaul an agency still filled with Islamic sympathizers. ISI, says a diplomat, "has to be cut down to size."
Still, the sweep was a decisive consolidation of Musharraf's power and a first step toward reversing more than two decades of Islamization in the 550,000-man army. It's now less likely anyone inside the military can sabotage or ignore Musharraf's pro-Western policies, leaving him freer to pursue his oft-stated goal of transforming Pakistan into a progressive Islamic state.
Musharraf has done more in the past few weeks to set his mark on Pakistan than he managed during the previous two years. He often said he was catapulted to power by a quirk of fate. When his predecessor, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, tried to fire him as army chief, loyal cohorts arrested Sharif, and Musharraf declared himself the new chief executive. His first months in office were marked by contradiction and lack of vision. He required a personal loyalty oath from high court judges but spoke fondly of "consensus." His promises of economic revival and "true" democracy to replace his elected predecessor's "sham" democracy petered out.