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Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani. — Photo by AFP
Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: In a nation long plagued by military coups, the question of who will replace Pakistan's all-powerful army chief has taken on new urgency this year as the country tries to shake off the legacy of decades of military dictatorship.

General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in the country, is expected to step down from the post after six years in November — presenting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the toughest of choices yet since coming to power in May.

The army has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history since independence in 1947. But even during periods of civilian rule, the army has set security and foreign policy.

Prime Minister Sharif says he wants to disentangle the military from politics and he has taken over the foreign affairs and defence portfolios in an apparent show of determination to wrest those responsibilities from the army. But the military is unlikely to relinquish its hold at such a sensitive time.

As Western forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, Pakistan is striving to prevent India from increasing its influence there.

Illustrating the difficulties Sharif might face in setting foreign policy, his bid to improve ties with India has been undermined by violence between Indian and Pakistani forces in the disputed Kashmir region. While the two armies trade fire and blame, Pakistan's civilian government can only look on.

Nevertheless, the Pakistani military has meddled less in politics under Kayani, earning him a reputation as a pragmatic soldier willing to ease the military's grip on political affairs and publicly endorse democracy.

Sharif, himself ousted in a military coup in 1999, has a difficult relationship with the army, and picking Kayani's successor could be the defining moment of his second term.

“It's not just that Nawaz wants someone he can trust and who he can use to neutralise the army's political role,” one retired senior military official told Reuters. “The army also wants someone who will be able to work with Nawaz.”

The job has been at the centre of a drawn-out guessing game and officials would not speculate publicly on it. But in private interviews with army officers, politicians and diplomats, several names have emerged as possible contenders.

Those include Lieutenant General Rashad Mahmood, the current chief of general staff, Lieutenant General Tariq Khan, who is considered pragmatic on US relations, and Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam, the most senior official after Kayani.

Some have even floated the idea that Kayani — whose term was extended for three years in 2010 to the discontent of some of the top brass climbing the ranks below him — might end up staying in the job for another three years.

“No guarantees”

Kayani, a chain-smoking, unsmiling man known for his low-key manner, is dubbed the Quiet General. His public statements in support of Pakistan's transition to democracy have earned him respect in the West.

In a speech just before the May election, Kayani said a bad democracy was better than the worst kind of dictatorship. And yet his words hardly concealed a warning that the army's support for democracy would not be available forever.

“Everyone says that under Kayani the army is now transformed and we can trust in its democratic credentials. But let's not jump the gun,” said a source in Sharif's administration.

“One era of soft military leadership does not make for a lasting legacy. The civilians will have to work hard to make sure everyone knows their limits.”

But even under Kayani some generals have grumbled quietly over the softer approach, and a new army chief might feel pressure to exert his authority over the civilians.

This could set the military on a collision course with Sharif again, like in 1999 when he was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf and jailed. Just a year earlier, Sharif had picked Musharraf as his new army chief.

“There are no guarantees the current status quo will last beyond Kayani,” said one diplomat in Islamabad.

Technically, Kayani has to come up with a shortlist of three candidates and send it to Sharif for approval. In reality, Sharif may not have much choice but he will at least try to strike a semblance of balance, officials say.

“A super assertive new chief whose first priority is to win back the former glory of his institution and a prime minister who likes being the boss and won't share the spotlight with anyone. That's an interesting combination," said one official close to outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari.

"The new crop of generals is not even remotely as patient as (Kayani) when it comes to the screw-ups of civilian leaders."

Comments (36) Closed

Ramesh Manghirmalani Aug 19, 2013 10:18am

He should not be given extension, he is part of Mush team-

Ahmer Aug 19, 2013 10:27am

One does not change horses in mid stream. Giving Kayani an extension of another three years seems to be the best solution.

Mohammad Bajwa Aug 19, 2013 11:04am

It is not a tough decision. PM should just promote the senior most officer.

sikander Aug 19, 2013 11:37am

Finally, it is an end call for Kiyani. Interestingly, he kept low profile throughout his serving period as an Army Chief. Though he meddled less in politics but hardly seen him to address the public whenever Army was needed the most to combat crimes such as ransom and target killers in Karachi. Fingers crossed.......Let us see whether the new chief will take some key issues seriously to combat and cripple terrorism. I believe a new Army chief should be capable of doing the most against all odds. Kiyani not even bother to make any comments about India's aggression on LOC and no comments whatsoever to warn India about its continue violation of the territory of Pakistan and killing of innocent people. Priority should be to end the involvement of our Army in combating US war, end of drone attacks and pay more attention to domestic issues in Karachi and to help flood victims by providing food and shelter.

Syed P.Farooq Aug 19, 2013 11:40am

Mr.Kiyani has not set any good example.including NRO,all disgraced events for Pakistan has happened under his nose and he could not do anything. He must not get any further extension.We need a straight forward,brave and valor Pakistan Army Chief.

Sherry Manzoor Aug 19, 2013 11:49am

Good Luck, you served us well ..

jdshami Aug 19, 2013 12:49pm

A suggestion for Sharif, Pick the most senior in line.

ali g Aug 19, 2013 12:58pm

Hi, why worry so much, US ambassador will appoint one!

Javed Iqbal Aug 19, 2013 02:02pm

Army has shown patience and responsible attitude towards democracy during the last five years. Now, its time for political leadership to act responsibly in relations with army and should restraint from being over ambitious for "full power and control" like they did in 1998/99. Army chief should be strong person to lead the army and must not be given a situation where he can go anti democratic. At the moment Indian ministers and army generals are barking against Pakistan, but we don't have a defence minister to resond Minister Anthony's outburst and hopefully the new army cheif will strongly respond to the warning of Indian army cheif.

Farooq Aug 19, 2013 02:10pm

The Army takes hold when the under-developed civilian institutions with declining performances keep wasting their chances and run the country's economy into ground. The military in power then finds it hard to let go of the power. The anti-army media campaign during past government has adversely impacted a general sentiment towards the protectors of the country. I wish all of the above changes for sake of one of the most beautiful and natural resource rich country, that was carved out to be PAKISTAN. Mr. Prime Minister, please do the RIGHT thing, which may not be the most popular thing!

Rehan Ghazi Aug 19, 2013 02:18pm

I think Nawaz Sharif, should appoint the most senior general after Kayani, as the new Chief of Army. Nawaz Sharif must stick with merit and shouldn't worry about any military coup etc. Pakistan's history shows that junior generals who had been superseded like Zia and Musharraf, are more dangerous than the most senior and rightful candidates to be army chief. Lets stick with merit, don't commit any blunders and deliver to the masses. Inshallah, there will be no military coup. Democratic governments must understand that their real power always comes from the people, no matter wherever, you are in the world.

Arshad Aug 19, 2013 04:15pm

Exactly the same news item (Ditto - word by word) is also carried by Business Recorder today. Just wondering if it is just a conincidence or something else. P.S. BR has reported it as by -- Reuters.

syed baqar ahsan Aug 19, 2013 04:43pm

Best way to promote is the senior most,there should one for Pakistan and no one who has sympathy/liking of the west or east.Kayani has played his inning well,kept the army with in its limits,gave un announced support to democratic culture to flourish and full back up for the elected govt to dispel western pressures and dictation and same has to be / will be fallowed by his successor.

syed baqar ahsan Aug 19, 2013 04:48pm

New one should look after 100% Pakistan,this army of ours watched the interest of Americans and Saudi Arabia in the past in this region,we lost respect of the our army in our own eyes.

Anees Aug 19, 2013 04:54pm

" ... the defining moment of his second term." .. unfortunately for Pakistan, it is his THIRD term, not second.

G.A. Aug 19, 2013 05:09pm

If all political parties, the judiciary, the media and above all, the citizens unite for democracy then no general would dare intervene. Dictatorships have been complete disasters in every country.

A Kashmiri Aug 19, 2013 05:42pm

long live Pak Army.

pathanoo Aug 19, 2013 06:05pm

Hold your breath time again for Pakistan. It is the roll of the dice.....another Field Marshall Ayub? the Drunk Yahya Khan? Zia Ul Haq? or Musharraf? Time for Nawaz to show his spine if he has any.

Maroof khan Jammu and kashmir Aug 19, 2013 06:14pm

He was chain smoker that is why he does not have Appetite Pakistan needs General Zai

Blitzer Aug 19, 2013 07:07pm

"The new crop of generals is not even remotely as patient as (Kayani) when it comes to the screw-ups of civilian leaders."

It's funny that a top aide to President Zardari should say this given the fact that in the last PPP-led civilian leadership there were blunders after blunders and screw-ups after screw-ups, yet, the Quiet General put up with all of that nonsense.

M. Siddique Aug 19, 2013 09:27pm

Army must stay away from power. Their role should be curtailed to defending the country under civilian leadership.

M. Siddique Aug 19, 2013 09:27pm

Army must stay away from power. Their role should be curtailed to defending the country under civilian leadership.

Ahmer Aug 19, 2013 11:06pm

Gen Kayani is not interested in politics. There is no risk in extending his extension by another three years.

Shah Nawaz Aug 20, 2013 03:22am

One coupe was brought by a fanatic extremist general and second was against the extremist. The only group that can force Miltary to return are likes of Taliban and proponents of strict so called Sharia

Varinder Sidhu Aug 20, 2013 04:47am

Nice Man is going away. I wish he stay another five years, He still have some time. I request him to visit India and promote friend ship between ours countries before he retires. Thanks.

Badar Aug 20, 2013 08:42am

Army may remain a powerful force due to lack of mature political leadership for some time to come. However, there's should not be any hype on this issue Too much public speculation is destructive. Let PM and President make their decisions without any public pressure.

Rizwan Aug 20, 2013 11:54am

If the chief is selected on merit and professionalism alone them it is more likely that he will not indulge in political affairs. On the contrary, if he is selected on personal whims and everything but professionalism, like we mostly did in the past then don't expect him to remain professional.

Nadeem Shakir Aug 20, 2013 11:57am

Military understanding is always an essential part of democracy success.

Best of Luck New Pakistan

Ahmed Aug 20, 2013 04:43pm

@Arshad: it's a reuters report, you'll find it 'word for word' in all publications who receive news from reuters

Imran A. Aug 21, 2013 03:59am

My suggestion for Nawaz Shareef, find a rishta within the family of one of the generals and form family ties. Kind of watta satta game.

kdspirited Aug 21, 2013 02:25pm

Mr. Kiyani must bow out gracefully. He is one of the leat controversial army chiefs and therefore took a lot of criticism for that reason. I respect his decision to stay out of politics and political games. but Pakistan and the army has undoubtedly suffered a lot on his watch somthing that should have never been the case.

Safi U. Jan Aug 21, 2013 03:56pm

His leadership terribly failled.......!!! terrorists easily penetrated into our cities & did genocides.

Masood Aug 21, 2013 04:16pm

Leave the matters of promotions strictly on SENORITY basis. No extensions ever to avoid heart burns.

Agha Ata Aug 21, 2013 05:08pm

Talking of the new crop of general

k.chopra Aug 21, 2013 06:13pm

Pak army takes big chunk of national cake.So their interference is there without being there.To keep Pak army out you have to keep them in and happy.

Vikki, Dilli Aug 21, 2013 07:49pm

Khalid Shameem Wynne can be a great choice, wish this Gentleman all the Best Wishes...........very goodperson indeed and highly deserving.