The Army Chief maintains a firm grip on the reins of power
It is often said that while nations have armies, Pakistani Army is an army with a nation.
Nothing exemplifies this better than Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani's
stranglehold on power. While the government led by Asif Ali Zardari appears to be fully in command of politics, aided by a pliant judiciary, a supportive US and a majority in Parliament, it is the Pakistani Army that continues to call the shots as it has done ever since that country became independent. It is almost certain that the Mumbai attacks had the sanction and endorsement of the Pakistani Army and the shadowy Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). No wonder,
the man at the helm of things is under a scanner. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has been listed at No 20 by Newsweek in a list of 50 "Global Elite". The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan has risen to that post following a stint as the ISI chief himself.
A reclusive man who has never given a press interview,
Kayani has a reputation of talking little but getting a lot done. The son of an army NCO, he
received his commission in the Pakistani army in 1971 in the Baloch Regiment as an
infantryman. His father died when he was training at the military academy. The task of
supporting his family — he was the eldest of four brothers — fell on him.
In 2002, he was appointed commander of the key Rawalpindi Corps. In 2003, the then
President Pervez Musharraf gave Kayani charge of investigating two assassination attempts
against him. All intelligence agencies in the country were tasked to work with him. In a few
months, Kayani had unravelled the two plots and arrested many culprits. In 2004, he was
promoted to head the ISI.
After Gen Musharraf shrugged off his uniform, Kayani gave no indication of wanting to wear
a civilian hat. He likened coups to temporary bypasses that are created when a bridge
collapses on democracy's highway. After the bridge is repaired, he said to a Pakistani
newspaper, there's no longer need for the detour.
As the Chief of Army Staff, he declared 2008 the "year of the soldier," an attempt to improve
the weak morale of the Pakistani Army which has lost more than 1,000 soldiers and police
officers since 2001. Earlier this year, several hundred soldiers surrendered to militants in
Waziristan, causing deep concern among the Pakistani military top brass.
Allegations that Kayani sanctioned the Mumbai attacks to galvanise a bitterly divided
Pakistani society has a ring of truth around them. Nothing unites a fractured Pakistani society
& polity than a war cry against the sworn enemy India. Also the specter of a war with India
gives him the ruse to shift his demoralized troops from the border with Afghanistan where
they have been at the receiving end of Taliban's growing strength.
Foreign policy experts say India cannot afford to take commitments made by the civilian
government on fighting terrorism directed against seriously. Kayani holds the veto over any
move towards normalization of relations with India. New Delhi will have to learn to do
business with him.