Islamabad: Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has appointed Lt. General Tariq Majid to head the key Rawalpindi Corps, triggering media speculation that he could be the next army chief in the event of Musharraf shedding his uniform to join politics.
Majid has been Chief of General Staff (CGS) and is due to retire only in December 2007. Musharraf is to take the crucial decision to run for a second term in the presidency much before that.
Majid's role was highly appreciated by Musharraf in his book, In the Line of Fire, as he handled army moves in Lahore on October 12, 1999, as General Officer Commanding, The News International newspaper noted in its report on Thursday.
That was the day Musharraf ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup. Since Sharif's political base has been in Punjab, the role of the officer who headed the Lahore garrison was crucial to the operations.
The newspaper described the change as "small but significant".
Quoting unnamed defence experts, the paper said that Majid held staff appointment and was required to command "in view of his future prospects".
Musharraf has repeatedly promised elections to the National Assembly and provincial assemblies before the end of next year. But before that he wants to use the present legislatures that form the electoral college for the presidential election to win a second term.
Since these legislatures had elected him once in 2002, whether they can do so again is a matter of heated debate in Pakistan. Critics say that would be unconstitutional.
Commenting on the pattern of staff appointments, the newspaper says that it is perhaps for the first time since Musharraf was appointed army chief that he has posted a new CGS from amongst those presently serving as top commanders.
In all earlier cases, Musharraf appointed a CGS on promotion from major general to lieutenant general as in the case of Lt. General Aziz Khan, Lt. General Shahid Aziz and last time Lt. General Tariq Majid, as Majid was promoted to the rank of a three-star general on December 17, 2003. By then Lt. General Majid was holding the post of Director-General Military Intelligence.
Majid's four-year tenure as three-star general would be completed by December 2007.
However, before Majid's retirement, General Ihsanul Haq, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee, and General Ahsan Salim Hyat, vice-chief of the army staff, would retire in October 2007 after completing three-year terms each.
"Thus, Majid would be the senior most three-star general and if all goes well he would be considered for promotion as four-star general," the paper said.
Lt. General Satti has remained commander of the Rawalpindi Corps since early October 2004 when Lt. General Ashfaq Kiani was shifted to head the elite intelligence organisation.
Meanwhile, the only three-star general likely to retire from the Pakistan Army this year would be Commander of Air Defence Lt. General Tahir Qazi, who is tipped as Pakistan's ambassador to Malaysia.