Retiring Pakistan army chief set for key role
KARACHI – General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, one of Pakistan’s most powerful men, has announced his retirement from the post of Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) on November 29. With one stroke on Sunday, General Kiani put to rest speculation in the media that he would try to extend his three-year term for a third time. Some reports, however, claim that Kiani is lobbying to keep a key defense role.
Kiani is prepared to accept a position as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), currently a largely ceremonial post that would be given more authority, or to become defense adviser to the government, according to a report published in The Wall Street Journal.
“Kiani is using his office to say that he’s the guy who can control North Waziristan, he’s the one who can handle what is happening with India,” The Wall Street Journal quoted a Pakistan’s retired army officer as saying. “With all this going on, he’s saying now is not the time for a change of leadership.”
Kiani’s appointment as head of the newly empowered JCSC would make him de facto head of the powerful military, which has ruled over the country for more than half of its history though is currently under a civilian administration headed by Nawaz Sharif, who elected prime minister for a third time in May. Sharif needs Kiani to ensure some continuity in its policy vis-a-vis Taliban militancy and rising tensions with India over Kashmir. The general may be helpful for keeping smooth relations with Washington in wake of withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan at the end of next year.
Kiani, in a statement issued on Sunday by the military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said: “For quite some time, my current responsibilities and likely future plans have been debated in the media with all sorts of rumors and speculations doing the rounds. The subject of being entrusted with new duties has also come up in several reports. I am grateful to the political leadership and the nation for reposing their trust in me and Pakistan Army at this important juncture of our national history. However, I share the general opinion that institutions and traditions are stronger than individuals and must take precedence.”
Kiani has twice served the three-year term as Chief of the Army Staff, during which he oversaw the first democratic transfer of power in the country following May 11 general elections. His services as army chief were extended for three years in 2010 under former government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Another extension by Sharif could allow for a shift in the ranks of the military’s top brass, but the prime minister wants Kiani to continue to play a key role in the military establishment.
Critics however say that keeping Kiani in a powerful position would mean entrenching the army once again as the real decision maker at the expense of the key role and powers of democratic government.
Sharif has reportedly planned to overhaul the JCSC, a largely ceremonial office, into a central defense body by restoring its command over the entire military establishment and giving it additional powers including the right to promote, post and transfer key military officers.
“The new JCSC chief will be in charge of the nuclear arsenal. He’ll decide on action against terrorists,” Reuters reported one senior intelligence official as saying. “Basically, the JCSC office will be what it was always supposed to be: the overall boss.”
Sharif as prime minister has the final decision about Kiani’s appointment to chair a revamped JCSC. Sharif had not been in good terms with the military establishment during his previous two governments and tussles with the military led to the dismissal of his governments. Sharif was put behind the bars in 1999 when former army chief General Pervez Musharraf overthrew his elected government in a military coup. Unlike his predecessor, Kiani has kept democracy on track and not indulged in adventurism against elected politicians during past six years. He especially did not take advantage of the weaknesses of the previous government led by former president Asif Ali Zardari.
In his statement on Sunday, Kiani said, “It is time for others to carry forward the mission of making Pakistan a truly democratic, prosperous and peaceful country that embodies the finest dreams our founding fathers had envisaged for us.”
Kiani is widely believed to stay on in one form or another even after his retirement next month due to the trust he has built working with the US. “Kiani has a good rapport with the Americans and has worked closely with them in Afghanistan,” Reuters reported an aide to the prime minister as saying. “For Sharif and the US, it’s better the devil they know.”
Kiani declared the American war on terror as the country’s own war. He undertook many military operations against Islamist extremists. In 2009, he successfully launched a military offensive against Taliban militants in Swat, the former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan is currently under attack from the extremists, who have so far killed 40,000 civilians and over 5,000 security personnel in bomb blasts and suicide bombings. Kiani backed the Sharif’s government in its decision to give peace a chance through peace dialogue with Taliban militants.
Sharif has to take the critical decision to appoint a successor to the COAS after Kiani retires from the post on November 29. Seniority-wise, General Haroon Aslam, who currently holds the position of Chief of Logistics Staff at the Army Head Quarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, should get the job. But Sharif may appoint the army chief out of turn, violating the principle of seniority. In 1998, Sharif ignored seniority by appointing Musharraf as army chief. His decision proved a blunder when Musharraf ousted his government in a coup d’tat.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider ( http://www.syedfazlehaider.com ) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004. E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org