General Kayani -Extension or CJCSC?

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Islamabad, May 31 (ANI): For some weeks now there have been articles, sponsored undoubtedly, that say that Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Asfaq Pervez Kayani will in all probability get an extended tenure in office, as he has become "indispensable" in Islamabad's "scheme of things".

Many in Pakistan feel that the country is passing through a critical phase and continuity at the top, which means the Army in Pakistan, is, therefore, essential.

Whispers in the corridors of power suggest that General Kayani would not seek an extension but would gracefully accept if invited to serve the country for a little while longer.

Others speculate on the possibility of the good general being elevated to the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCSC) with executive powers, which could mean that the post is not treated as a glorified sinecure.

Arguing in the Pakistan media on behalf of Kayani, have been Zafar Hilaly, a former diplomat and now a columnist, Shahzad Choudhry, a former Air Vice Marshall and High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Ikram Sehgal, a former Army Major and now a defence and strategic analyst.

There have been whispers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi for some weeks now about this open solicitation campaign stared that began at the end of April, when Hilaly wrote a laudatory article in The News on the Pakistan Army in general, and on General Kayani's leadership in particular.

General Kayani's leadership was particularly praised for the success achieved in counter insurgency operations in Swat and Waziristan.

Hilaly naturally did the mandatory para on how the Azm-e-Nau III military exercise showed how ready Pakistan was to contain and counter traditional enemy, India.

Air Vice Marshal Chaudhry's take (Daily Times May 10) on this was that the Pakistan defence management system needed to be recast with a new CJCSC who would be consulted for the appointment of the chiefs of the three services, promotions to three star rank should be cleared by a board headed by the CJCSC, the directorates of ISI and the ISPR should be directly controlled by the CJCSC. He said General Kayani should be the new CJCSC, balancing powers between his office and that of his successor.

In a follow up article in the Daily Times (May 14) Hilaly was more direct. He said General Kayani needed to stay because removing a commander in the midst of a war (against the Taliban) would send a wrong signal to 'friend and foe alike'.

More importantly, Hilaly's opinion was that General Kayani was 'uniquely suited for the job at this juncture of our troubled history in view of his personality, temperament, ability, aptitude and experience.'

Writing a column on May 13, on a website P K Columns, former Major Ikram Sehgal after praising General Kayani also argues for his retention as CJCSC as granting an extension would clog the system down the line.

Of course, not everyone is entirely pleased with this chain of thought.

Ayesha Siddiqa, writing on her blog on May 13 (What's up in the GHQ), is very blunt when she says that the Army chief's office was feeding its favourite journalists with stories about General Kayani's continuation.

Her contention, and this is a reasonable contention, is that a decision to extend the term would depend upon three factors - an agreement within the GHQ, a nod from the US and support of the political government.

The political government is on the back foot and Zardari himself is considerably weakened. There would be very little resistance from the political set up. It is true that the US would like continuity and General Kayani becomes the preferred option, but only if he is perceived to be able to deliver on US objectives.

Of these, therefore, the first - opinion of the GHQ - is the most important and latest 'leaks' suggest some kind of an agreement but no-one really knows whether this is for an extension as a COAS or as a new empowered CJCSC.

It is well known that the Pakistan Army top brass takes care of its interests first and Siddiqa does not think that the last has been heard about the extension issue. (ANI)

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