Originally Published 2010-07-28 00:00:00 Published on Jul 28, 2010
The three-year extension given to Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani by the civilian government recently serves short-term objectives of a few vested interests and compromises long term interests of the region and its people.
Kayani's extension augurs ill for region
The three-year extension given to Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani by the civilian government recently serves short-term objectives of a few vested interests and compromises long term interests of the region and its people. The people who benefit from the extension are quite obvious to identify—Kayani himself, the Pakistan People’s Party-led government and its two leaders, Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gillani and President Asif Ali Zardari, and the United States of America.

The principle argument put forwarded by Prime Minister Gillani for giving a tenure extension to Kayani was that it was necessary to provide `continuity` to the government which was engaged in a transnational `war on terror`. It is no coincidence that the Gillani-Zardari government’s term expires in February 2013, about nine months before Kayani’s. There has also been a concerted effort to point out that it was the first time an army chief in Pakistan was given an extension by the civilian government thereby implying the `supremacy` of the civilian establishment in Pakistan. Both the arguments are facetious.

First, the Gillani-Zardari duo had no choice. The Americans were quite insistent that the Kayani had to continue as the Army chief till they had extricated from Afghanistan with some semblance of honour. They had no time to experiment with a new `chief` in the saddle in Rawalpindi, particularly after their own General in Afghanistan (Stanley McChrystal) had to be sacked for gross insubordination. Kayani therefore, like Musharraf during his hay days, was indispensable at this juncture for the collapsing Af-Pak strategy. Thousands of Afghan War documents leaked on Wikileaks on July 25, 2010, clearly showed how desperate the situation was for the Americans in Afghanistan.

Was Kayani keen on continuing? The fact that he was willing to go along with the charade being played out by Gillani  in Islamabad left no doubt that Kayani was not only keen on continuing as the Chief of Army Staff but was only willing to do so if there was a tenure extension. He was certainly not keen on a year or a two-year extension; that would have been seen as a `hand out`. He ensured that there was enough pressure on the Gillani-Zardari duo to give him a full additional tenure at the helms. If he was truly a professional soldier as several commentators both in Pakistan and US project him to be, he could have simply refused the suggestion. There is at least one such precedence to go by in Pakistan Army—General Abdul Waheed Kakar who declined a similar offer made by the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Interestingly, Kayani has served as Military Secretary to Benazir Bhutto and was one of the interlocutors on behalf of President Musharraf to negotiate with the former Prime Minister in 2007.

Kayani’s acceptance of the extension also raises the question about his much-talked about commitment to steer the army towards a more professional image and capability. Kayani’s ready acceptance of the extension raises questions about the credibility and capability of the army’s top leadership to deal with the complex challenges facing the army as well as the country.
The various implications of Kayani’s extended term are not as apparent and call for a greater scrutiny of personalities, events and strategies underlining the current scenario in the region. Let us study Kayani a little more closely than what has been projected in the media. Kayani might be a General the Pentagon and White House can talk to on a `man-to-man` terms but the man himself has a mind of his own and is quite capable of adopting all kinds of subterfuge, with far more sophistication than his predecessor, to achieve his objectives.

For all his `good intentions` to fight the terrorists, Kayani as the Army chief has refused to give up the time-tested `jihadi` option. Terrorists and extremists are today as potent a strategic instrument as they have been in the past. In fact, if Kayani’s term as the ISI chief were to be prodded a bit, it would become clear that he was aware of his agency setting up terrorist training camps in the Frontier (now called the Khyber-Pakhtunwa) areas as well as in the tribal areas. He allowed the Taliban’s Quetta Shura to consolidate and find a sanctuary in Balochistan despite all kinds of pressure from the Americans. He also allowed, both as the ISI chief and then as the COAS, the intelligence agencies and its terrorist clients to carry out attacks against India. The classified documents on the Afghan War leaked by Wikileaks recently only confirmed Kayani’s `jihadi` mindset. The ISI-Taliban partnership, the documents showed, flowered during Kayani’s tenure as the ISI chief.

There is no indication that Kayani has any inclination to change these attitudes. This means Pakistan Army persisting with its anti-India strategies, including the use of terrorist groups as proxy to target India and its interests in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. Pakistan Army will continue its active alliance with at least some of the Taliban groups pursuing the objective of defeating the US-led forces or forcing them to leave Afghanistan in the near future. Kayani has so far managed to bring the Americans around to believe that the best option out of Afghanistan is by negotiating with the Taliban and not defeating them as originally planned. The Americans have not only given up the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his close confidants but are today showing an extraordinary eagerness to find the `good` among the Taliban which, along with al Qaida, killed over 1200 US soldiers (over 1900 in total) in Afghanistan since 2001. A settlement of any kind with the Taliban in Afghanistan will in no way make the US homeland safe. In fact, it will make the region even more unstable than today and create more fragmented sanctuaries of terror on both sides of Durand Line, critically undoing every bit of strategic compulsion which made the US launch its `global war on terror`.

Kayani will either not move at all or move exceptionally slow in containing the anti-India terror groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT). The ramifications of such a policy are not difficult to fathom—the possibility of another Mumbai attack or a more severe one will scuttle the painstaking effort to build a very tenuous peace process which is critical to the stability of the region and, in more ways than one, to the long term interests of the US. There is another dimension to these groups which rarely gets discussed. These groups, over the years, have developed a global outlook and are both willing and capable to carry out attacks in distant lands, including the US, to achieve their long-term strategic objectives. LeT, for instance, has expanded its armed agenda to target the western forces in Afghanistan. The terrorist group, based in Lahore, has not only been training the Taliban cadres in its training camps but also fighting alongside the Taliban-al Qaida elements against the American forces in Afghanistan. LeT, born out of the Afghan Jihad, had considerable influence and support in Kunar and Paktia provinces (where it used to run training camps during the Afghan Jihad). It maintained its influence in Nuristan province long after the Afghan Jihad was over. The terrorist groups like LeT, with substantial investment in terrorist infrastructure, today act as recruitment and training centres for radicalised individuals and groups in different parts of the world. Kayani’s tacit approval of terror groups like LeT critically weaken the international community’s commitment and effort to neutralise terrorist groups like al Qaida and its allies and to stabilise the region.

Equally important is to assess the impact of Kayani’s extension on the fledgling democratic process in Pakistan. The undoing of Pakistan as a nation is largely due to the stranglehold Pakistan Army has had on the country since 1947. It has controlled social, economic and political life in Pakistan to strengthen its position. The perks and privileges enjoyed by the army leadership are at the cost of the people of Pakistan, most of whom live in a state of penury and pessimism. This military oligarchy can only be undone by a vibrant civilian political process. The cornerstone of this process is the elected civilian government and its will and capability to craft and implement policies in the larger interest of the people of Pakistan, and not focussed on sustaining military’s corporate and other interests. This will and capability, at present, is hostage to Pakistan Army and Kayani’s extension has made it even more difficult to alter this equation. As long as Pakistan is under the control of Pakistan Army, terrorist and extremist groups will continue to find shelter and sustenance in and around Pakistan and thereby keep the region unstable and the world more unsafe.

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