Musharraf begins Pakistan's military musical chairs

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ISLAMABAD, Sep 21 (Reuters) Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf appointed a new military spy chief and made several other promotions today, days after announcing his plan to step down as head of the army if re-elected president next month.

A military statement said Musharraf appointed Nadeem Taj as director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and promoted him from major-general to lieutenant-general.

Taj was formerly the head of Military Intelligence and also served as Musharraf's military secretary after he came to power in a coup eight years ago.

The move will harden expectations that the replaced ISI chief, Lieutenant-General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, will get one of the top jobs -- either replacing Musharraf as chief of army staff, or becoming his vice chief.

Army appointments are closely watched at any time in Pakistan, as generals have ruled for more than half of the 60 years since the country was founded.

But this year's round of retirements and promotions has been keenly anticipated as Musharraf is going through his weakest phase.

The Supreme Court is hearing several petitions challenging his right to hold the dual role of president and army chief, the legality of being elected in uniform, and whether he can be re-elected by the current assemblies before they are dissolved for a general election due by mid-January.

Military officials said that altogether six major-generals were promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general.

Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ahsan Saleem Hyat and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Ehsan ul-Haq are both due to retire next month.

REUTERS JK SSC1133

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