By Reza Jan
The extension of Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s term by three years is the first by a democratic government in decades and amounts to a full second term for Gen. Kayani. Gen. Kayani will now retire in November 2013 and will outlast the terms of both Prime Minister Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari.
General Kayani guides Admiral Mullen on an aerial tour of Pakistan
Gen. Kayani has won high praise in Pakistan and the United States for his professionalism, ability to keep the army from interfering in politics, and for salvaging the army’s public image and morale from dangerous lows.
Gen. Kayani has overseen key transformations in the Pakistani military and has spearheaded new and widely lauded offensives against the Pakistani Taliban, including operations to retake the Swat valley in April 2009 and to clear South Waziristan of insurgents in October 2009.
Supporters of the extension for Kayani argue that the move maintains continuity of command in the Pakistani military during crucial phases in Pakistan’s operations against the Pakistani Taliban and during its military development and sustains lines of trust built up over the years between key actors in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States.
Critics retort that the extension disrupts regular promotion schedules, strengthens personality politics in the army (jeopardizing democratic revival), and maintains Pakistani military and intelligence aid to Afghan Taliban groups.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced on July 22 that, after consultation with President Asif Ali Zardari, he had decided to grant Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, a three-year extension of his tenure. The announcement confirmed rumors that had been circulating since last year that Gilani would extend Gen. Kayani’s term.
The extension means that Gen. Kayani will now retire in November 2013. This will make the army chief one of the longest serving principals in the country, as both the prime minister and the president are slated to complete their terms before his retirement (although they are eligible for re-election). This means Gen. Kayani will likely still be the army chief during the 2013 general election.
Even though there was little doubt that Kayani’s term would be extended, the reappointment is unique for two reasons. First, it is the first time that a serving chief of the army has received a full term extension from a democratically elected civilian government (previous extensions have either been short-term arrangements, or given by military rulers to themselves). General Abdul Waheed Kakar, the army chief during the late Benzair Bhutto’s second stint as prime minister, was also offered an extension, but declined to accept it. Second, this is the first time that a democratically-elected civilian government in Pakistan has chosen to forego selecting an army chief of its own. The government is standing by the choice of the previous military government (Gen. Kayani was former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s choice of replacement).
Gen. Kayani has won high praise within Pakistan and from United States for transforming the fortunes of the army in a short amount of time. When Gen. Kayani inherited the position from President Pervez Musharraf in 2007, the popularity of the army as an institution had sunk to new lows, in large part because of its association with the increasingly unpopular rule of Gen. Musharraf. The Red Mosque controversy, the disastrous peace deals, defeats at the hands of the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Swat valley, a new wave of suicide attacks across the country, and anger at the army’s political meddling all contributed to a swelling public resentment and a slide in troop morale. Gen. Kayani managed to salvage the army’s tarnished image and few in Pakistan would argue against his success. Public concern about extremism dropped in Pakistan between 2009 and 2010, the period in which the Pakistani military experienced success in its operations against the Taliban. In 2009, seventy-three percent expressed concern about extremism; only fifty-four percent did in 2010.
Gen. Kayani is also hailed at home as a hero for turning around the war against the Pakistani Taliban. Under Gen. Kayani’s stewardship, the Pakistani military launched decisive operations in the Swat valley and in South Waziristan, retaking territory that had served as safe havens for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan since 2007 and for related groups long before in the case of South Waziristan. Those operations, along with numerous other offensives across the FATA, have earned Gen. Kayani plaudits at home and abroad.
Gen. Kayani launched programs to help salvage flagging troop morale even prior to turning around Pakistan’s war against its own militants. The army chief designated 2008 “The Year of the Soldier,” issuing a number of directives to try and better the conditions of the common soldiery, including vast pay increases for soldiers and frequent personal visits to soldiers serving in the field. He designated 2009 “The Year of Training” during which the military launched a back-to-basics approach to increasing military professionalism. The army increased its training programs from the battalion level on up, culminating in the staging of the Azm-e-Nau III wargames in April 2010, the largest in Pakistan’s history. The major military operations launched in 2009, no doubt benefitting from these army-wide programs, saw success that has further boosted troop morale.
Perhaps among Gen. Kayani’s biggest accolades is the success he has had at keeping the army out of politics, at least overtly. He managed to keep the army from interfering in the 2008 general elections and, in January 2008, ordered all army officers to break and eschew contact with politicians. Gen. Kayani also extricated hundreds of military officers from positions in government and civil service normally filled by civilians. While Gen. Kayani has on occasion stepped in to referee major political disputes, it has usually been done discreetly, in keeping with his desire to maintain a low public profile.
Many defense analysts and commentators in Pakistan, and diplomats and military officials in the United States, have commented favorably on Gen. Kayani’s extension. They cite his professionalism, success against the Pakistani Taliban, excellent relations with his American counterparts, and the need for continuity of command during a critical time in Pakistan’s operations against the Taliban as the reasons for supporting Prime Minister Gilani’s announcement.
There has been, nonetheless, reasoned dissent among others. One of the primary concerns has been the disruption to promotion schedules that Gen. Kayani’s extension will cause. By granting Gen. Kayani a three-year extension, Gilani has conferred upon the army chief a full second term in the position, essentially denying the next generation of three-star officers a chance at filling the top slot. In practice, this affects only one general in particular. Lt. Gen. Khalid Shamim Wyne, the current Chief of General Staff, would have been the most senior officer at the time of Kayani’s retirement; Gen. Wyne will now retire before he would have the chance to serve as COAS. There has been some talk of creating the position of Vice Chief of Army Staff for Gen. Wyne, but such a move has historically been viewed with skepticism within the army. While there is the risk that such an extension could create misgivings among other senior generals, it is unlikely that such an offer was made or accepted without the broader agreement of the army’s Corps Commanders.
Another issue of concern is what the extension represents for the progress of democracy in Pakistan. While it is a positive development that the extension was granted (at least superficially) by a civilian government, it does not speak well for the country’s democratic development if it continues to rely on strong personalities within the army. A six-year term army chief following so closely on the heels of Gen. Musharraf’s own nine years in power conjures up ghosts of an uncomfortable past. Gen. Kayani’s unique relationship with the United States is presented as an argument necessitating his continued presence and senior officials in U.S. military and policy circles have for some time championed granting Kayani an extension. Critics argue, however, that this reinforces old U.S. policies of dealing with strong military personalities to the detriment of the ruling civilian government.
Lastly, there remains concern regarding the Pakistani military’s attitude towards the war in Afghanistan. Gen. Kayani has been lauded by his American allies for ramping up the Pakistani counterinsurgency campaign against the Pakistani Taliban and for purging officers with ties to militants, but the U.S. has privately expressed its disappointment that the Pakistani military has refused to distance itself from the Afghan Taliban, in particular the Haqqani network. This concern is even more potent following the leak of classified U.S. military documents by WikiLeaks.org. Many of the leaked documents, prepared by lower-level U.S. military officers between 2004 and 2009, claim that the ISI provided high level strategic and tactical support to Afghan Taliban groups. In fact, according to the documents, much of the support was provided and expanded during Gen. Kayani’s time at the helm of the ISI from 2004-2007.
Pakistan’s security policies, which would include historical support for militant groups, or lack thereof, are rarely the machinations of one man and usually are the result of a consensus among the senior-most members of the Pakistani officer corps. It is unlikely that Pakistan would undergo any dramatic shift in its external security policies even if Gen. Kayani were to retire on-time. The Pakistanis vehemently deny assisting the Afghan Taliban and claim that, if there is any support being rendered to the Taliban, it is by retired members of the ISI acting of their own devices and out of the control of the nation’s security apparatus (the U.S. has, on occasion, endorsed this claim). If this is indeed the case, then support for the Afghan Taliban remains a factor insulated from whether Gen. Kayani stays or goes.
While concerns remain over the long-term negative impact of Gen. Kayani’s extension, there is much that might mitigate or override those fears. There is truth in the prime minister’s assertion that military operations in Pakistan are at a crucial stage. Gen. Kayani is overseeing not just major kinetic action against militants in Pakistan’s northwest and the stabilization of previous operations, but a larger transformation of the Pakistan Army in general. The army is in the midst of accounting for doctrinal changes by India’s military as well as sharpening its ability to fight guerrilla warfare against militants in the mountains. Furthermore, the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is currently in a state of flux. Switching key actors during a period of stabilizing relations risks losing relationships that have been shaped over the course of years.
The same remains true of Gen. Kayani’s relationship with top commanders in Afghanistan. Gen. Kayani is respected, well-liked and has a good working relationship with both General David Petraeus and Admiral Mike Mullen. Pakistani and U.S. military cooperation has increased dramatically under Gen. Kayani’s supervision and it is exactly that increased cooperation and trust building which could help shift Pakistani policy away from supporting enemy actors. Cyril Almeida, an editor for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, aptly summed-up the situation by saying “Kayani is supposed to preside over the finest institution in the country and if he regards himself as indispensable, it cannot be read in a positive way….Having said that, clearly something is about to change in Afghanistan, and the army here feels need for continuity. He has understood the regional developments and has familiarity and dexterity of issues that might not exist in another officer right now.“
While it is unfortunate that personalities are once again a seminal concern in U.S.-Pakistan relations, for better or for worse, the fact remains that Pakistan’s security policy is firmly within the domain of its army. Relying on such personalities to maintain a level of stability through this body at a key juncture in the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan is, perhaps, a necessary evil. While it may be too early to augur the effects of Gen. Kayani’s extension, there is little doubt that if an extension is seen as necessary, none could presently fill the role better than Gen. Kayani himself.
Tags: Afghan, Democratic Government, fata, General Kayani, Kayani has won high praise in Pakistan, Military, Pakistan Army Chief’s Term Extended, strengthens personality politics in the army, taliban, U.S Militants, War in Afghanistan