While the ISI was the main conduit for channeling CIA funds to the Afghan mujahideen, or freedom fighters, during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, Pakistan's shifting policy on Afghanistan is widely believed to have seriously affected the ISI brass, many of whose officers are still intensely loyal to the Taliban and their hard-line Islamic ideology.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks
It's a matter of brass tacks that Musharraf is well aware of, judging from his actions on Oct. 7, just as the much-awaited U.S. and British strikes on Afghanistan began.
In one fell swoop, Musharraf ruthlessly sacked Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed, the powerful head of the ISI, and Gen. Muzaffar Hussain Usmani, deputy chief of staff of the Pakistani army.
Both Ahmed and Usmani were widely believed to have uncomfortably close ties to the Taliban and unhidden sympathies for the Pashtun tribesmen who dominate the regime. In the wide and often accurate Pakistani rumor mill surrounding ISI operations, word has it that a small group of ISI officers visited the Taliban stronghold city of Khandahar in Afghanistan days after the Sept. 11 attacks without the permission of the government.
According to a report by seasoned Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid in the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, the group had reportedly gone into Afghanistan to help the Taliban prepare their defenses and a strategy against U.S. attacks.
"This superseding of the chain of command in favor of religious or brotherly fealties at the working level of the ISI was, if accurate, a technical violation of the code of conduct," said Ijaz.
And in the current climate, Musharraf was apparently having none of it. Although the Pakistani leader downplayed the significance of the staff shuffle in the immediate aftermath of the dismissals, experts noted that the new ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Eshanul Haq, had a reputation for being a "moderate" and "reasonable" man.
But many experts also warn against putting too much emphasis on the staff shifts as a yardstick of Musharraf's control over the two institutions. "It's questionable what difference the getting rid of one general here and there can really make," said Bose. "Unless there is a disbanding or a fairly radical overhaul of the ISI, I would guess it's unlikely to make any significant difference."
A Matter of Class and Ethnic Loyalties
In the complex political situation of the subcontinent, where caste and ethnic loyalties play a major role, the significance of Musharraf's class and ethnic background is not lost on seasoned South Asia watchers.
Born in Delhi, India, before the British colony was split into India and Pakistan on the eve of independence in 1947, Musharraf belongs to what is called the muhajirs or immigrants who fled India for Pakistan.
His Westernized habits, even the fact that he is often photographed with his pet dog, an animal considered unclean by conservative Islamists, is not lost on Pakistanis. An army man trained in the old school Pakistani military tradition, Musharraf heads an army that is dominated by officers from the Punjab region.
With Pakistani officials making serious attempts to rectify the dominance of Punjabis in the military, where opportunities for young men and women abound, ethnic Pasthuns have been the largest benefactors of the new recruitment drives.