Kayani’s extension is Zardari’s insurance
General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani will be Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff till 2013. But the three-year extension he has been given in the name of “continuity” in the war against terrorism on the borders with Afghanistan shows the PPP-led government as weak and subservient when it comes to dealing with the Khakis.The General’s a Punjabi unlike Pervez Musharraf who was always conscious of his Mohajir roots that made him a bit vulnerable in the Army set-up dominated by Punjabis and Pakhtoons.
His image at home took a beating when troops stormed Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (occupied by Islamic fundamentalists) and went after Baloch Nationalist Nawab Akbar Bugti in Balochistan.
Politically, these actions made Musharraf the most isolated military ruler in Pakistan’s history. Kayani in contrast is given credit for the successful military action in Swat and South Waziristan to clear the areas of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan whose armed cadres had surged dangerously close to Islamabad.
There are no prizes for guessing therefore as to who holds the reins of power? It’s Kayani without doubt though Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ordered his extension in consultation with President Asif Zardari.
The powers these worthies have on paper are a trifle misleading. The recent Constitutional reforms only saw a civilian President ceding his powers (to dissolve the assembly or appoint the services chiefs) to a civilian Premier. The third face in the troika— that of the Army Chief — remained unaffected by the changes touted as a major achievement of Parliament and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.
In his extended tenure, Kayani will outlast Zardari and Gilani in office. He did indeed help democracy by remaining aloof in the 2008 elections that brought the PPP to power and routed the pro-Army PML (Quaid) backed by Musharraf, who by then had given up the office of COAS and was merely the President.
It is ironic but true. In order to survive in office, the PPP leadership has picked up the PML-Q’s traits to ingratiate with the Army. The consequence: the civilian rulers’ isn’t the final word on Afpak, India-Pak and Pak-US relations. The veto is with Kayani and his cabinet of corps commanders.
Pro-democracy elements in Pakistan are irreconcilable to the idea of India emphasizing the military’s pre-eminence in their affairs. But the Army’s pivotal position in their system and the power-structure cannot be underplayed or ignored, especially when the civilian leadership isn’t above being on the right side of the generals.
They’re prone to dancing to their tunes even if it means disrupting the peace tango with New Delhi. The case in point here is Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s less than diplomatic conduct in the recent talks with S M Krishna.
Even the US understands the Army’s relevance and plays accordingly. The delegation Qureshi led to Washington some weeks ago had Kayani as its guiding member.
From India’s standpoint, it’s necessary to understand the thinking of the Khakis —- especially with regard to action on David Hedley’s evidence implicating the ISI for 26/11. Mutual trust will be the casualty if Pakistan does not move to book and get punished the conspirators of the Mumbai attacks.
To sustain dialogue and have people in India backing it, Kayani raher than Zardari or Gilani has to play the impresario for peace. But will he?
Looks improbable. The Pak Army sees a realizable chance of establishing its writ in Afghanistan. And to prevent that, India has to keep harping on the Hedley evidence to show that Islamabad cannot be trusted to replace the US and NATO forces in the Hindukush.