- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appointed a new intelligence chief and promoted five other generals in a staff shake-up yesterday just days after signaling he would quit the military if elected to a new five-year term.

Outside the supreme court, hundreds of flag-waving supporters of Pakistan’s biggest Islamic party held an anti-Musharraf rally as judges heard petitions challenging his right to run for re-election.

Opposition parties, who claim it would be illegal for Gen. Musharraf to run, staged smaller street protests across Pakistan and their leaders vowed to quit parliament a week before the presidential vote, scheduled for Oct. 6.

Gen. Musharraf, a U.S. ally, signaled Tuesday that he would step down as army chief if re-elected — restoring civilian rule eight years after he took power. Opposition parties want him to quit the army post before the election.

Gen. Musharraf’s popularity has dropped since his botched effort to fire the chief justice of the supreme court earlier this year. His administration also is struggling to contain Islamic militancy amid unpopularity over Pakistan’s alliance with the United States.

Underscoring the threat to his government, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden urged Pakistanis to rebel against Gen. Musharraf in a new message released Thursday, saying his military’s siege of a militant mosque stronghold in July makes him an infidel.

In a preliminary shuffling of the army’s top ranks announced by the military, Gen. Musharraf appointed Maj. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who was his military secretary in the 1999 coup, as director-general of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

He replaces Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kiani, who is among the top generals tipped by analysts as a possible successor to Gen. Musharraf as army chief.

About 1,000 flag-waving supporters of Pakistan’s biggest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, rallied outside the white marble supreme court. Joined by supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, they shouted, “Go, Musharraf, go.”

Inside the court, a nine-member panel of judges heard petitions before adjourning until Monday. A ruling that could determine Gen. Musharraf’s eligibility for the election is expected early next week.

An electoral college comprising all federal and provincial lawmakers is to choose the next president on Oct. 6. Parliamentary elections are to follow by mid-January.

Raja Zafarul Haq, chairman of Mr. Sharif’s party, said lawmakers from an opposition alliance would resign from the assemblies on Sept. 29 and protest nationwide the next day.

Under pressure from Washington to broaden the base of his government, Gen. Musharraf has held talks that could lead him to share power with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who plans to return to Pakistan Oct. 18 to campaign in the parliamentary elections.

While the negotiations have stalled, some analysts say the two leaders could team up to oppose the conservative supporters of Mr. Sharif and Islamist parties.

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