Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced on Thursday that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will be military chief till 2013.
PM made the announcement in a three-minute televised address to the nation in which he showered praise on Kayani and termed him a respected person both nationally and internationally.
Gilani said that Kayani’s extension was necessary for continuity in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and that: “He was a key designer of the strategy for the war on terror and it is progressing well under him. The war is going through a critical stage… continuity is needed at the moment and we are sure that the war on terror, under Kayani, will reach its logical conclusion successfully.”
2013 is also the year both the incumbent government as well as Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s tenures end.
In March, the government had also given a one-year extension to Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha for similar reasons.
Kayani, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful man, had been due to retire in November. He had replaced former president General Pervez Musharraf on November 29, 2007. Before that, Kayani has also held the key position of ISI chief.
He also officiated as the director general of military operations and held that slot when the Pakistan Army first moved into the country’s tribal areas to flush out al Qaeda affiliates.
Kayani was also the man who reportedly brokered a power-sharing deal between Musharraf and slain former premier Benazir Bhutto – an accord that led to the issuance of the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in October 2007.
According to sources Kayani has been in many different roles and the architect of the policy to deal with militants during Pakistan’s campaign against terrorism,. Therefore, experts believe, the US administration would have also supported an extension in Kayani’s tenure.
Recently, there have been reports that American officials have pressed Pakistani civilian authorities to extend his tenure. A report suggested that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her visit to Islamabad last week had raised the issue of Kayani’s extension with Pakistani leadership. The government, however, has been denying any external pressure to extend his tenure.
Kayani has also been at the centre stage of a proposed Afghan reconciliation plan that has now been endorsed by the world’s key powers including the US.
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.
A report on General Kayani’s 3-year extension (as published on the Reuters website)
What does Kayani’s stay as Pakistan army boss mean?
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.
Here are a few questions and answers on the implications of the government’s decision.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE U.S. 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.