Last month’s visit of Pakistani officials, including the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaque Pervaiz Kayani to the United States raised quite a few eyebrows. For some it was a déjà vu, a Pakistani General marching in to Washington, leading a civilian agenda.
The Chief of Pakistan’s Armed Forces, Gen Ashfaque Kayani is the man in charge of the offensives against the Taliban in western Pakistan. A man with a steely personality is the last person many around the world want to see leading bi-lateral talks.
In the words of the New York Times “General Kayani has impressed American military and intelligence officials as a professional, pro-Western moderate with few political ambitions of his own.” Meanwhile, Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post in speaking of the Pakistani delegation wrote “Qureshi heads a Pakistani delegation of senior cabinet officials, as well as the powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, who is viewed as driving the nation's agenda.”
It is not surprising to see that the military in Pakistan is talking the talk and walking the walk. In all honesty, the civilian, democratic leaders have been hard at work bashing each others’ heads over constitutional reforms to actually care about the war raging on its western borders. The President, Asif Ali Zardari has yet to visit the war ravaged hill station of Swat – but Kayani has.
The strength of the General has been steadily growing, evident in the way he had side stepped the parliament and held individual meetings with Cabinet members in Pakistan behind the Government’s back. In Washington, it is Kayani rather than Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi who has been leading the charge in talks. Drone attacks, information sharing, training Afghan troops, concern against India; it’s all dealt with by Kayani.
Gen Kayani was sworn in late 2007 and was made sole responsible for tackling the Taliban in western bordering areas of FATA. A military operation that has been underway since 2006, the civilian government in Islamabad was of the view that a military situation was best dealt with by the military. However not all is that meets the eye. Democratic Islamabad tried many a times to tamper with the military and tame the semi-rogue intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence), the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA. After numerous reforms and counter reforms to bring the ISI directly under the parliament, control was ceded to the army.
President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani have had their hands full in bringing constitutional reforms and managing the government as is. The void, as was shown in Washington, has been taken up by Kayani. A coup d’état, however, is unlikely. Kayani, despite a string of eye raising meetings with political leaders and even with the opposition, has given no indication that he would be willing to go for a wholesale shuffle in the mainstream politics.
The reason for his reluctance is two parts. One, Kayani is not politics savvy. He has, despite his meetings, kept himself associated with the fight against the Taliban and keeping a strong vigil against India, a matter of high concern taken up with the US. Secondly, the political part he resigns for his long standing buddy, former Army Chief and President, Perwaiz Musharraf. Musharraf is due to re-enter mainstream Pakistani politics when he launches his own political party in May.
Kayani, however remains an integral figure. In the war on terror, there can be no progress till this guy calls it. This was evident in the key arrests of Taliban commander Mullah Baradar from Karachi. Added that the arrests were revealed in a press conference conducted by Kayani himself shows the importance of this veteran General. At the head of an operation that is exacting nearly 80,000 Pakistani troops and associated machinery, it is Kayani’s strategies and his coordination with NAT O forces which will ensure an Allied victory.