Pakistan has replaced the head of its shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country's premier military spy agency involved in combating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, officials said Tuesday.
Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha has been appointed as director general of the ISI, a military statement said. He is currently director of military operations and is considered a key aide to army chief Ashfaq Kayani.
He replaces Nadeem Taj, a loyalist of former president Pervez Musharraf, who took up the post in October 2007.
The ISI has been at the centre of concerns among western allies that it is either turning a blind eye to militants in Pakistan's troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, or even actively sponsoring the rebels.
The switch is part of a major shake-up of the army in which 14 lieutenant generals were moved to different positions, but military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the changes were routine.
"These were the changes due over a period of time. This is how the system works in the army," Abbas told AFP.
Movements in Pakistan's military and intelligence services are closely watched by the United States and other allies for signs of the nuclear-armed nation's stability and commitment to the "war on terror".
The ISI has played a key political role in a country that has spent more than half of its 61-year history under military rule.
It also helped to create the Taliban militia that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, leading to suspicions amongst Pakistan's neighbours and allies that it is still linked to the hardliners.
Pakistan strongly denies any such links, although Musharraf admitted in 2006 that some retired Pakistani intelligence officers may have been abetting extremists.
The change in the ISI comes after the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, tried to put the elite agency under the control of the interior ministry in July.
That move was hastily withdrawn after protests by Pakistan's powerful military establishment.