Kayani – The Puppeteer
As was once said of Prussia, Pakistan is not so much a country with an army but an army with a country.
Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has been given a a three-year extension to his term of office to maintain continuity in the country’s battle against Islamist militants.
Kayani, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful man, had been due to retire in November. His future had been the subject of intense speculation for months, with opinion divided between those who argued he should be given an extension for the sake of continuity, and those who said that Pakistan needed to build its institutions rather than rely on individuals – as it had done with powerful army rulers in the past.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who announced the extension, said the decision to extend Kayani’s term reflected “his effective role in the war against terrorism and in the enforcement of rule of law in the country.”
Kayani is considered to have built a good working relationship with the United States - which needs the Pakistan Army’s help in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan – prompting speculation, denied by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, that Washington had pressed for his term of office to be extended.
He has also been the subject of intense speculation in India, where the views of the army – which controls foreign and security policy even under a civilian government – are seen ascrucial to determining the fate of the faltering India-Pakistan peace process.
A former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Kayani has been credited with keeping the army out of politics on the whole. Military analysts also say he has redefined “strategic depth” – an old policy under which Pakistan aimed to use Afghanistan as a rear base in the event of war with India – to suggest instead that the country’s strength should come from a strong economy at home. Yet under his tenure – both as the head of the ISI until 2007 and then as army chief – Pakistan has also been criticised for failing to take strong enough action against Islamist and Taliban militants.
Otherwise, relatively little is known about the thinking of the inscrutable general, who never gives public interviews. Pakistan, its neighbours and the United States and its allies fighting in Afghanistan, will now have another three years to find out.
Kayani strongly shares the traditional suspicions of India nursed by the Punjabi officers in the Pakistan Army, who look upon India as an ill-wisher of Pakistan. He shares the determination of the Punjabi officers to counter India in every way possible and necessary , whether in Jammu & Kashmir or in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Interestingly, Gilani made no reference to the situation in Afghanistan and the tensions in Pakistan’s relations with India while justifying the decision to extend his term. It was the General’s role in countering the threats from terrorist elements in Pakistan which was underlined as the main reason for extending his term. He has a good equation with the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army of China and has further strengthened the military-military relationship with the PLA. The past relations which were focused on the two armies and air forces, have now been expanded to focus more on the two Navies. The joint counter-terrorism exercises between the two armies have practically become joint counter-Uighur exercises, with China increasingly relying on the Pakistani security forces for putting down the revolt of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province. While he has been reluctant to act against Al Qaeda and its associates in North Waziristan, he has not hesitated to act against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which poses a threat to China.
The decision to give him an extension, which was expected for some weeks, was announced shortly after the visits of S.M.Krishna, India’s Minister For External Affairs, and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to Islamabad. Krishna visited Islamabad for talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Clinton for the periodic strategic dialogue with Pakistani leaders and officials. Official sources took care to emphasise that there was no linkage between these visits and the timing of the announcement. Some retired Generals close to the PPP such as Gen.Abdul Wahid Kakkar, who was the COAS during the second tenure of Benazir as the Prime Minister, are also believed to have assured Zardari that there would be no threat to his position or to the civilian Government as a whole from Kayani and that at a time when the country was passing through a difficult internal security situation Kayani should be allowed to continue. The Americans too, who believe that a known General is better than an unknown General, were keen that Kayani should continue.
India has reasons to be concerned over the continuance of Gen.Kayani as the COAS. There is unlikely to be any change in Pakistan’s use of terrorism against India. Kayani is thought of well both by the Pentagon and the PLA leadership. The resumed flow of sophisticated US military equipment to Pakistan and the enhanced strategic assistance from China would add to the threats already faced by India.Within a day of getting an extension as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, accepted China’s advise on blasting the swollen Attabad lake in Gilgit-Baltistan, which had inundated a portion of the Karokoram highway connecting the two countries. The move is seen by observers as a sign that Kayani’s extension would help implement some of China’s strategic policies in the terrorist hit region, which is close to the Indian border as well. Chinese leaders are particularly worried about the possibility of Taliban related forces spilling over to its Xingjian region, which is going through a separatist movement for the creation of the so-called East Turkmenistan nation. It needs Pakistani military to keep the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists in check across the border, as well as cut off their links with the Uighur separatist in Xingjian.
Musharraf started as a fierce adversary of India, but mellowed down over the years. Kayani shows no signs of mellowing down. So long as there is no change in the attitude of Kayani and his Army, including the ISI, even if the elected political leadership sincerely wants better relations with India, it may face difficulties.
Did Kayani give this extension to himself? Known as the puppeteer in the current power equations in Pakistan, it is but natural to expect that while there may be many justifications for his extensions, the most plausible theory is that since he controls the strings to Pakistani politicians of the PPP, he announced his extension through Gilani. All this to give legitimacy to his capability to rule Pakistan without having to govern it. That he has now superseded a bevy of Army officers who would have been promoted upon his retirement is a coup of unprecedented proportions in Pakistan. Till now dictators gave themselves extensions..now the in service chief of Army has chosen to do so.
Kayani’s extension has reiterated that Pakistan Army will remain India Centric and that the support to Jihadis from Pakistan in India will continue unabated. Afghanistan would be used as a tool for gaining strategic depth and monies will continue to pour from US since it believes that Kayani holds the key to Talibani compromise and graceful exit of NATO forces from Afghanistan.
“When it comes to policy in regards to the U.S., Afghanistan and India, it is General Kayani who is calling the shots,” says Najam Sethi, the editor-in-chief of the Friday Times.
For now, we can wait and watch.