Pakistan has extended the term of army chief General Ashfaq Kayani for three years to ensure continuity as the military deals with an Islamist militancy that has spread from the turbulent northwest to the heartland.
By Zeeshan Haider
what does it mean for the US and the war on terror?
The United States is likely to welcome the continuity in the top military leadership because the Pakistan army’s help is crucial to Washington’s efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan.
Kayani is believed to enjoy a good rapport with the American top brass and has won praise for leading two major offensives against homegrown militants the past year in the northwestern Swat Valley and South Waziristan, a major militant bastion on the Afghan border.
However, militants have regrouped in many areas and extended their war from the turbulent tribal areas to cities and towns across the country, unleashing a wave of suicide and bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of people and posing a serious challenge to the government and the army.
Praise notwithstanding, the United States would like Kayani to clamp down more on Afghan militant groups based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, who are seen as the main source of violence across the border in Afghanistan.
How will India see it?
India may not publicly comment on Kayani’s extension, but is unlikely to welcome it. Kayani has maintained the military’s traditional focus on India. Under Kayani’s command, the Pakistan Army this year staged its biggest manoeuvres in 21 years near the Indian border to practice for the threat of conventional war with the old rival.
Some Indian media reports accused Kayani of being responsible for a stalemate in last week’s formal talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries, the first since the 2008 Mumbai attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai. India blames Pakistan-based militants for the attacks that killed 166 people.
A senior Indian official, just ahead of Islamabad talks, accused the Pakistan’s army main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of orchestrating the assault.
How does this affect the domestic political situation?
Kayani was appointed army chief by former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf in 2007. But unlike Musharraf, the soft- spoken Kayani is generally seen as an apolitical man.
After assuming office, Kayani vowed to stay out of politics, ordered all army officers out of posts in the civil service and barred his officers from meeting politicians. In 2009, he played a behind-the-scenes role to help the civilian government avert political unrest triggered by opposition protests for the restoration of judges ousted by Musharraf.
Despite widespread allegations of corruption against the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and its simmering dispute with the increasingly assertive Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chance of a military coup at this stage is seen as very remote, although it can never be ruled out.
Because Kayani has been so low-key on the political front, the civilian government may have been reluctant to change commanders and find itself with someone more willing to openly inject himself into the governing of the country.
While major political parties have not yet commented on the government’s decision to extend Kayani’s term, media outlets have made generally favourable noises about it. Some commentators, however, have said it sends the message that Kayani is indispensable, which could weaken the army as an institution.
Kayani’s extension also means that now the terms of all major figures in Pakistani politics — Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Chaudhry and Kayani — expire in 2013.
How will this be received in the Army?
Kayani is the first army chief in Pakistan’s history who has been granted another full three-year term in office under civilian rule. Previously, army chiefs have either not been offered an extension or declined the offer.
Given the 63-year history of Pakistan, where the military has ruled the country more often than civilians, analysts do not expect any major grumbling among the top ranks. Pakistan’s military rulers in the past remained chief of the powerful army for at least 10 years or more.
But seniority matters when it comes to promotions, and some in the army may feel their careers stalled now that Kayani is sticking around.
Three-star senior military commanders who feel their promotions have been blocked due to Kayani’s extension could either quit their jobs voluntarily or may be accommodated in other, coveted posts in the army.
Kayani may create the post of vice chief of army staff to accommodate a senior commander while the post of chairman of joint chiefs of staff committee also falls vacant later this year with the retirement of incumbent four-star general, Tariq Majid.