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Pakistan's top general reins in own Army

Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani has been curtailing the political influence of a military accustomed to running the country.

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He is the product of a different mind-set, says Badar Alam of the Pakistani magazine, The Herald. Kayani served as military secretary to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's late wife, and he attended the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

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"Kayani has a much more liberal outlook" than past Army chiefs, says Mr. Alam.

This extends to his view of militants, he adds. Kayani and his top brass are not of the generation that rose through the ranks by cultivating militant networks – such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – to strike at Indian interests throughout the region.

"Their relationship with militants is not as strong," Alam says.

It is one reason he has been willing to launch the largest attack against militants in Pakistan's history. The Army says it has deployed 120,000 troops into the areas bordering Afghanistan, while the United States has begun to carry out complementary operations on the Afghan side of the border to catch militants in a vise.

In a Pentagon teleconference, Col. John Spiszer claimed the biggest success of the operation was the growing cooperation between forces.

It offers the hope that Zardari will have a free hand in dealing with Lashkar-e-Taiba, should he choose to.

On Thursday Indian Foreign Minister Mukherjee demanded it. He asked Pakistan for a "complete dismantling of the infrastructure facilities available from that side to facilitate terrorist attack [and] banning the organizations."

Pakistan has begun by banning Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity that the United Nations designated as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba Wednesday. The head of the charity, Hafiz Saeed – who also founded Lashkar-e-Taiba – has been put under house arrest.

Yet there appear to be limits to how far the Army is willing – or able – to go. In the hours after terrorists began their rampage in Mumbai, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani offered to send the head of the ISI to India. He later retracted the offer, though it is not clear whether that was the result of public opinion or Army obstinacy.

More significantly, the Army feels it lacks the capacity to take on Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has its roots in Punjab, the heart of Pakistan. "Punjab would not be a small operation," says Mr. Nawaz.

With forces already deployed in the tribal areas and concern about a potential attack across the Indian border, "they can keep tabs on Lashkar-e-Taiba, but they don't want to open that front at this point," says Moeed Yusuf, a Pakistani military expert at Boston University.

"There's a desire to put the house in order one by one," starting with the tribal areas, he continues.

Besides, the Army already feels antagonized by the US, which has been firing missiles at terrorist targets in Pakistan, though there are reports of a secret deal with Pakistan allowing this.

Still, the US is a major ally and donor. India is neither. Says Nawaz: Zardari and Kayani "can't be seen to be folding to Indian demands."