By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad and Dean Nelson in New DelhiPublished: 4:59PM BST 25 Jun 2009
Mr Zardari is accused of yielding to British and American pressure. Photo: EPA
According to sources close to Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kiyani, senior officers are alarmed at the president's plans to divert troops and aircraft defending Pakistan's border with India and deploy them in a new offensive against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Their rift emerged after Mr Zadari made a number of speeches earlier this week, in which he said India no longer posed a military threat to Pakistan and that his country's greatest threat came from Islamic guerrillas in its tribal areas along its frontier with Afghanistan. Such militants have waged a campaign of suicide bombings throughout Pakistan's major cities and control large swathes of its tribal areas.
His comments raised hopes of a new thaw in the frosty relationship between India and Pakistan, but were questioned by analysts who said it defied the two nation's experience of three wars. They accused Mr Zardari of yielding to British and American pressure.
Both London and Washington escalated their lobbying of Pakistan to address Indian concerns after the November attack on Mumbai, in which more than 170 people were killed. It was blamed on the Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Evidence showing the plot was hatched and launched from Pakistan brought the two countries close to war, and sparked an intense diplomatic campaign to persuade New Delhi and Islamabad to step back from the brink.
According to senior military figures, one Anglo-American gambit to Islamabad was a guarantee that India would not be allowed to attack Pakistan if its forces were redeployed to fight terrorists on its Western border.
Analysts last night said they did not expect President Zardari to win his fight to redeploy the army from the Indian border.
"Mr Zardari's statements do not mean that Pakistan will withdraw its troops from the border. For this to happen there has to be a reciprocal action by India," said Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political and defence analyst. "He meant that although India may represent a long-term threat, the immediate threat is from the Taliban," he added.
Lieutenant-General Talat Masood, a respected political analyst, said Mr Zardari's comments were a genuine attempt to shore up civilian-led government in the country by easing tension with India.
"He thinks civilian government will be consolidated if relations with India improve, he thinks it is in Pakistan's interest and for him the militancy is a greater danger," he told The Daily Telegraph.
Despite signals that India would welcome talks - possibly between their foreign ministers at a meeting of the G8 group of nations in Trieste, Italy, this weekend - New Delhi believes a willingness to deport terrorist suspects like Lashkar-e-taiba leader Hafiz Saeed would be a more meaningful statement.
Lt-Gen Masood said Pakistan's military chiefs firmly believed that there must first be progress in finding a solution to their dispute over the Kashmir region before a better relationship could be considered worth having.
Until then, the army chiefs will focus on India's vast military capability rather than its stated intentions. "Intentions can change, and you can't rule out the possibility," he said.