Misplaced Wisdom? Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, has been given a three-year extension.
Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who will be completing his three-year tenure as Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) on November 28, 2010, has been given a three-year extension by the civilian government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He will now continue as the COAS till November 28, 2013.
Mr Gilani, who announced the decision to give him an extension in a brief telecast speech on the evening of July 22, 2010, said the extension had been given in the interest of continuity at a time when the war on terror was successfully continuing against the elements who wanted to impose a system of their choice on the country (an apparent reference to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan). He said: “The success of military operations could only have been achieved under General Ashfaq Kayani’s leadership. He has been involved in planning and monitoring of operations in militancy-hit areas. These operations are at a critical stage and successful continuation of these operations required continuation in military high command. General Kayani is held in high esteem at the international level due to his excellent military leadership qualities and pro-democracy views. “In the best interest of the nation, I, in my capacity as Prime Minister, have decided to give General Kayani a three-year extension in his service from November 29, 2010, relaxing the rules, and after consulting President Asif Ali Zardari.” Interestingly, he 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.
The decision to give him an extension, which was expected for some weeks, was announced shortly after the visits of Mr SM Krishna, India’s Minister for External Affairs, and Mrs Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to Islamabad. Mr Krishna visited Islamabad for talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Mrs 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.
Ever since the elected civilian government came to office in March 2008, there had been indications that while the General’s relations with Prime Minister Gilani were correct and warm, his relations with Mr Asif Ali Zardari, who took over as the President in September 2008, were correct, but lacking in warmth. The lack of warmth could be attributed to the general suspicion of the Army which Mr Zardari had inherited from his wife Mrs Benazir Bhutto and the General’s feeling of discomfort with some of the persons in the entourage of Mr Zardari, particularly Mr Rehman Malik, an ex-police officer who is now the Interior Minister. Gen Kayani, like some of his senior colleagues in the Army, also viewed with suspicion some of the initial statements of Mr Zardari advocating close relations with India. The failed attempt of Mr Zardari to have the control of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) transferred to the Interior Ministry also added to the misgivings nursed by Gen Kayani and other Army officers about Mr Zardari. These suspicions also played a role in Mr Zardari having to give up his control of the nuclear national command authority which was transferred to the Prime Minister.
In view of these misgivings about each other nursed by Mr Zardari and his entourage on the one side and Gen Kayani and his Corps Commanders on the other, there was an element of doubt whether Mr Zardari would agree to give his consent to the extension. Under the present dispensation after the passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution, the prerogative of selecting the COAS is that of the Prime Minister. But since Mr Zardari controls the Pakistan People’s Party, Mr Gilani did not want to take the decision unilaterally without his consent. Ultimately, Mr Gilani succeeded in convincing Mr Zardari and his entourage that there would be no threat to the civilian government from Gen Kayani, if he were given an extension.
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 Mr Zardari that there would be no threat to his position or to the civilian government as a whole from Gen 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.
Once Mr Zardari agreed to support the extension, things moved fast. On July 15, when the talks between the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan were in progress, Mr Gilani sent for the General and informed him of the decision to extend his term. Gen Kayani reportedly wanted to seek the concurrence of his Corps Commanders before accepting the extension. The Corps Commanders, who were consulted by him the next day, approved of his accepting the extension. There was no voice of dissent. He informed Mr Gilani immediately thereafter and the announcement was made.
It is learnt that Mr Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, who had suffered at the hands of the Army when Pervez Musharraf was the COAS, had some misgivings too about the wisdom of giving an extension to Gen Kayani since he feared that the extension could make Gen Kayani powerful and could once again lead to military interference in politics. However, Mr Nawaz was ultimately persuaded by his brother Mr Shabaz Sharif, who is the Chief Minister of Punjab, not to object to the extension. Gen Kayani has warm relations with Mr Shabaz. However, the PML (N) is yet to come out with a statement on the extension.
Since taking over as the COAS in November 2007, Gen Kayani has been assertive in matters concerning the Armed Forces, including the ISI, but accommodating and non-interventionist in matters concerning the political governance and economic management of the country. His quietly assertive style in matters concerning the Armed Forces was seen in his strong opposition to the attempt to transfer the control of the ISI to the Ministry of the Interior under Mr Rehman Malik, his opposition to some of the original conditionalities in the USA’s Kerry-Lugar Bill regarding US assistance to Pakistan which, in the eyes of the senior army officers, tended to reflect negatively on the Army, his insistence that the government should protest to the UN Secretary-General against the unflattering references to the intelligence agencies in the report of the UN Committee which had enquired into the assassination of Benazir and his reported remonstration with the Foreign office for failing to counter effectively Indian allegations of the ISI’s role in the Mumbai terrorist strikes of 26/11.
Gen 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 possible and necessary way, whether in Jammu & Kashmir or in Afghanistan or elsewhere. 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.
In the counter-insurgency operations against the TTP he has had partial successes in the Swat Valley, South Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai agencies. Under his leadership, the Army has been able to deny the TTP territorial control in these areas, but has not been able to destroy their capability for terrorist strikes and commando-style raids in tribal as well as non-tribal areas. While arresting some leaders of the Afghan Taliban, who were living in Karachi and other non-tribal areas, he has avoided action against the Afghan Taliban leadership operating from the tribal areas.
He has avoided any action against al-Qaeda elements which have taken sanctuary in the non-tribal areas. Under Musharraf, the Army and the ISI were much more active against al-Qaeda in the non-tribal areas than they have been under Kayani. The anger of al-Qaeda and its associates against Musharraf because of the action taken by the Army and the ISI was responsible for the virulent campaign of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri against Musharraf and the Army. They abused Musharraf as apostate, collaborator of the Hindus etc and thrice tried to kill him—once in Karachi and twice in Rawalpindi. Compared to that, there is hardly any al-Qaeda campaign against Kayani. There is a greater threat to Mr Zardari from al-Qaeda than to Kayani. The Army and the ISI have managed to create an impression in the tribal areas that Mr Zardari and not Gen Kayani is responsible for the facilities extended to the US for its Drone (pilotless plane) strikes in the tribal areas. Since Gen Kayani took over, while many al-Qaeda leaders have been killed in the tribal areas by the Drone strikes, there have been very few arrests of al-Qaeda elements in the non-tribal areas. Al-Qaeda feels more secure in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan today than it was under Musharraf.
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. 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.
The continuing paranoia of the Pakistani Army is due to its lingering memories of its humiliation in the 1971 war and its fears that India is determined to break up Pakistan. Any reduction of this paranoia would depend on our success in building up military-military relationships at various levels. The quest for better relations with the Pakistan Army should go hand-in-hand with the quest for better relations with the political leadership and the people.
By B Raman
The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies