General Kayani marches on

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Islamabad, Aug 3 (ANI): General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani's extension was already on the cards half way through this year when one saw rather motivated opinion pieces in the mainstream Pak English media. What was not clear was the arrangement that would be made to pull this through and the period of the extension.

When the announcement was finally and hurriedly made that evening (July 22) by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, it did set up a few conspiracy theories float, in a country that simply revels in conspiracy theories. The announcement had been made just a few days after the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (July 18), leading commentators and politicians to whisper that the extension was at the prompting of the US.

Stories about the extension had been doing the rounds in Islamabad since May this year and it became sort of semi-official on May 23 with a story that the Corps Commanders were happy at the possibility of an extension for Kayani.

Just a few days before Clinton's arrival there was another story that an announcement about the extension was expected within 72 hours really suggesting that this would be before Clinton actually landed in Islamabad. The hurried announcement by a nervous Gilani confirmed many suspicions that the extension had been pushed through by Clinton (she had met Gen Kayani on July19) because the Americans do not wish to deal with a new face at what might be as they work out new arrangements about their stay in or departure from Afghanistan.

The comfort level with Kayani was very high with all their interactions with him as DGMO then DG ISI and now as the Army Chief. Paradoxically this perceived intervention by the US may force Kayani to try and keep a distance between himself and the US to portray his independence. Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus have often spoken very warmly about General Kayani something that may cause him some embarrassment.

It has also been rumoured that Kayani was initially offered a year's extension, which he declined, and it was then suggested to the government that he should be offered a three-year term.

Apart from the US there are domestic players, of unequal importance who would have a role in this.

The primary players would be the Army Chief himself, President Zardari, PM Yousaf Raza Gilani, and now also the Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry. Gilani's term runs out in February 2013 and Zardari's term in September 2013 just a few months before Kayani himself finishes his three year term in November while CJ Iftikhar Choudhry finishes his term in December.

Other players in this would be the senior Army Generals who would have outlasted Kayani had he not got this extension and the PML (N) as well as the PPP.

There is no love lost between the President and the Chief Justice with the latter wanting to prosecute the President through the withdrawal of the NRO and recommencing corruption cases against him.

The Chief Justice has been an activist in the missing persons cases much to the discomfiture of the Army. Kayani did not want this to be pursued and yet appear apolitical.

The Pakistan Army has institutional animosity towards the PPP while it has become suspicious of the PML (N) since the Musharraf days. This PPP-Army animus goes back to the Zia days and even the Bhutto assassination enquiry was ordered to be done by the UN as the PPP suspected that the local apparatus would cover up the entire episode. There would have been some bargain on this with Zardari, the NRO case and Kayani's extension.

It is possible that President Zardari has won the Army over by supporting the extension and thus put his detractors in the judiciary and the PPP on the back foot. Zardari lacks the kind of support Benazir had in the party and there is rivalry between him and Gilani about who should be controlling the Party. Zardari's price would be to keep quiet on the India-Pak issues and let the Army handle this. This is something that would not hurt Zardari greatly.

It is obvious that there has been some arrangement worked out much the same way that Nawaz Sharif and Zardari had worked out last year to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry and by all accounts General Kayani had to intercede to prevent Nawaz Sharif's long march to Islamabad. The Sharif brothers of the PML (N) have frequently shown sympathy for the Punjabi Taliban and its senior party members have been openly consorting with extremist groups like the Sipaha Sahaba to indicate their rightwing support and sympathies. This would also embarrass the PPP government in Islamabad.

PML (N) and the Army are wary of each other. The PML (N) has been lukewarm in its comments about Kayani's extension. In the past the PML (N) has tried to dominate the Army higher echelons and it has a large number of supporters from within the Army rank and file which means Nawaz Sharif can create groups/coteries at junior levels. The Army would therefore like to keep Sharif at some distance in preference to the more amenable PPP at this juncture.

Gen Kayani's other immediate problem would be to accommodate the generals who would feel that they have missed out being the because of the extension. In the past the Army has handled this very well and it is not likely to be different this time either except that the PML (N) continues to maintain a discrete silence. A number of generals (17) will retire between now and November 2013 when General Kayani retires. Only five generals presently in service will outlast Kayani. These include tow Corps commanders - Lt Generals, Syed Mod Awais (Peshawar Corps) and Rashad Mahmood (Lahore Corps).

The next crop of generals will be from among those who joined the Army in the Zia years.

Pakistan Army's India centric approach and call for patriotism because of the Indian threat will continue. This means no change in policy regarding Afghanistan either nor should there be much comfort regarding terrorism. Faced with a growing India-US friendship, Pakistan will certainly seek to further strengthen its ties with China and Saudi Arabia. By: Mohammad Mir (ANI)

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