Rawalpindi, Feb 15 : As general election in Pakistan nears, all eyes are on Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kiyani, who has been close to President Pervez Musharraf.
However, most analysts agree that General Kiyani could move against Musharraf, however reluctantly, if he believed that the President's actions were damaging the army's standing.
"I think Musharraf will have understood by now that General Kiyani will not bail him out," the Los Angeles Times quoted Shaukat Qadir, a retired Brigadier General and political analyst, as saying.
"In the end, his loyalty is to the institution of the military," said military analyst Nasim Zehra, adding "Not to any one man."
In her article, Laura King, a LA Times staff writer, has raised apprehension about how Musharraf might react if his allies were dealt crushing defeat in the February 18 general election in view that the President had imposed de facto martial law for six weeks late last year as the Supreme Court heard legal challenges to his rule.
And if it is the other way round, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, aligned with Musharraf, does well, and the opposition suspecting large-scale vote-rigging sends supporters into the streets in protest, King says "the army would probably be called in only if paramilitary forces were unable to subdue rioters."
"Another difficult prospect for General Kiyani would be if Musharraf's opponents win control of the Parliament and try to impeach the President. Political leaders and perhaps senior army officers could look to General Kiyani, a four-star general, to deliver the news to his onetime mentor that it would be best if he stepped aside," King writes.
"If anyone can steer a course through all this, it's probably him (Gen Kiyani)," said a Western military official in Islamabad, who has known him for several years.
On Pakistan Army's action against Islamic militants in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan and other parts of northwest Pakistan, King writes: "the Bush administration appears confident that the US-trained General Kiyani is willing and ready to retool his forces and refine his tactics as necessary."
General Kiyani has met in recent weeks with high-ranking American visitors, and there was no mistaking the respect accorded him, even as tough demands were being conveyed.
US Navy Admiral Michael G Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began his main day of meetings here last week with a session with General Kiyani, not Musharraf.
"General Kiyani's relationship with Musharraf remains unclear," writes King.
While under Musharraf, General Kiyani held sensitive posts, including that of head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Musharraf had issued a reminder before handing the baton to General Kiyani that "as President, he remains Commander-in-Chief." He also insisted that he would continue to play an influential role in an army in which he served for four decades.
Musharraf has yet to vacate his personal quarters and offices in the sprawling military cantonment at Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad.
In contrast to Pakistan's top military echelon, General Kiyani comes from humble beginnings rather than the patrician background.
Although General Kiyani attended the US Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., he lacks the polished air of some of his peers. They speak easy British- or American-accented English in contrast to General Kiyani's slightly laboured speech, and are the sons and grandsons of senior officers, often with family wealth to fall back on.