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Dr. Shantanu Chakrabarti is Reader in the Department of History, University of Calcutta. Earlier he was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • December 27, 2007

    General Asfaq Pervez Kayani’s elevation as the 14th Pakistan Army Chief of Staff in November has been treated in the Indian media as a relatively low key affair. The General has been projected as a Musharraf ‘loyalist’ positioned primarily to retain Musharraf’s influence and hold on the Army. But transitions, particularly in Pakistan’s military etablishment, have rarely followed any given pattern and it can be expected of Gen Kiyani to initiate some new policy direction.

    Kiyani, born in 1952, belongs to the post-Independence generation of Pakistani army men. Son of an NCO, Kiyani studied in the Military College at Jhelum. Subsequently, he did his graduation courses at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Staff College at Quetta and then later the National Defence College of Islamabad. During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, Kiyani served as a young lieutenant in the Baloch Regiment. Since then his career graph has been on the ascendancy. In 1988 he was the deputy military secretary to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Kiyani was in charge of the extremely sensitive border operations as the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) during the 2001-2002 stand-off between India. In spite of the highly belligerent attitude displayed by key members of the Pakistani establishment, including the ISI chief, Eshanul Haq, who warned about “an all-time high risk” of conflict, the situation never went beyond the rhetoric. Insiders say it was Kiyani’s expert handling of the situation, and his constant contact with the Indian command that kept the eight-month stand-off from becoming an outright war. Kiyani’s deft handling of a tense situation was noted by President Musharraf who promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant General in September 2003 and trusted him the important command of the X Corps in Rawalpindi. Musharraf also gave him the charge of investigating the case regarding attempts to assassinate him in 2003. Kiyani was awarded the Hilal-I Imtiaz, Pakistan’s third highest civilian award and in 2004 he was appointed as the Director General of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), a post he continued to hold till October 2007, when he was appointed as the Vice Chief. The final indication of Musharraf’s continued faith in Kiyani came on 28th November 2008 when the Chief’s baton was passed on to him. Musharraf’s autobiography In the Line of Fire has glowing references to Kiyani.

    Generally perceived to be an apolitical person, Kiyani enjoys a degree of confidence among the leading political figures in Pakistan. This became apparent when Musharraf involved him in negotiations with Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Kiyani is also highly respected in the Army and it is for the first time that a person from the ISI has become the Chief. He also seems to enjoy a high degree of support from the Pakistani civil society. Though involved with Musharraf in ousting Justice Ifftekhar Chaudhury, he has not yet been targeted as ‘Musharraf’s henchman’.. According to some sources, he strikes a good chord in the Pentagon, a clear reference to which was made by the US State Department spokesperson that senior officers at Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency have had "some long-term interaction" with General Kiyani and "was comfortable with him."

    As the new Army Chief, Kiyani has his task cut out. His crucial test would be his ability to handle the war on terrorism and stemming the rapidly growing internal insurgency. As the ISI boss, Kiyani had already been involved in fighting insurgency operations in Baluchistan and FATA. He has been a key player in the Pakistan government’s drive to control ‘Talibanization of the area’ since the National Security Resolution of 4th June 2007. Significantly, his earlier attempts to contain the threat in Waziristan and NWFP have not been visibly successful. Kiyani, unlike Musharraf, seems to prefer a mixed policy towards counter-insurgency which would involve both displays of force as well as negotiations. As the Vice Chief, Kiyani had already spoken about his desire to strike a balance between military and political solutions. This will be of continuous interest to observers.

    One can note in this context two recent reports on Pakistan published by the Carnegie Endowment for the International Peace which have been very sceptical about the Pakistan army to successfully engage in counter-insurgency operations. One of the report titled Pakistan: Conflicted Ally in the War on Terror by Ashley J. Tellis in December 2007, argues that the Pakistani army is a conventional force and, therefore, inadequate to handle counter-insurgency. Many political analyst and commentators would agree to this assessment, for example, Massoda Bano a columnist for the Pakistan Observer writes that despite the strong aid flows from the US, the lower ranks of the military suffer from low morale; this being visible in the surrender of 250 soldiers in the tribal belts recently. In the second report Rethinking Western Strategies Toward Pakistan: An Action Agenda for the United States and Europe by Frederick Grare, the author mentions that at the core of the problem is the Pakistani military, which has not only dominated Pakistan’s politics but also developed a brand of nationalism based more on its own delusions of grandeur rather than on any rational approach. Inheriting a highly divided polity, the Pakistan Army has tried to muster solidarity by stoking religiosity, sectarianism, and the promotion of jihad outside its borders, particularly in Afghanistan and Kashmir. According to Grare, this policy must be abandoned in favour of a more positive one making further availability of Western funds and resources subject to an increasing commitment of the military establishment towards proper democratization and not just half-hearted measures as being attempted now.

    General Kiyani comes at a time of increasing domestic and external pressures on the Pakistani establishment to comply with democratic and liberal norms. His challenge will be to formulate an appreciable and appropriate role for the Pakistan Army during these times of change.

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