Kayani — his words mattered as much as actions

Published November 28, 2013
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shaking hands with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on the occasion of the latter's farewell dinner at the Prime Minister House on November 27, 2013. — Photo by INP
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shaking hands with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on the occasion of the latter's farewell dinner at the Prime Minister House on November 27, 2013. — Photo by INP

When Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani retires from military service today, it would not just be the end of the career of a high-profile general ranked last year by Forbes as the world’s 28th most powerful man. The day will also mark the first change in command of the army since the country returned to democracy in 2008.

One of the major legacies of Gen Kayani, as he exits the powerful GHQ, is his consistent support for democracy though the military establishment kept stringent checks on the political leaders during his tenure.

This is a legacy that the retired general was well aware of.

Just recently in October while addressing the passing out parade at Kakul, he had hoped that his successor could carry on his legacy and help establish democracy on firmer footings.

But Kayani may also be remembered as the longest serving COAS under a civilian set up.

Though he was appointed by his predecessor and a military dictator, Pervez Musharraf in 2007, Kayani ended up getting another three years thanks to the PPP government in power in 2010.

When he was elevated to the office of army chief in 2007 by Musharraf, the expectation was that he would be the dictator’s man. But he dashed these hopes when he played neutral in the then developing tensions between the newly elected PPP government and Musharraf, which led to the latter’s exit.

But perhaps even earlier than the Musharraf-PPP-PML-N showdown in the summer of 2008, Kayani showed the first hints of his independence when he began reducing the army’s direct involvement in governance by calling back the officers who had been seconded to government departments. He did this soon after taking over.

This is not to say however that Kayani was able to achieve a complete separation of the civil-military affairs in a country, which had a history of military involvement in politics. Issues therefore continued to crop up between the civilian and the military leaders beginning with the controversy over the Kerry-Lugar Aid legislation that, to the army’s chagrin, included clauses for strengthening civilian oversight over the military.

The public and private expression of reservations by the military led to an impression of confrontation, but in retrospect it was a managed affair in which the army had its way without rocking the democracy boat.

It was after this that Kayani got an extension from the PPP government in 2010. The next year proved to be the most challenging not only for country’s foreign relations, but also for civil-military relations.

From the Raymond Davis episode to the killing of Osama bin Laden to Memogate Scandal and Salala incident — they all tested the resilience of the nascent democracy.

The security situation in Balochistan and Karachi also remained sore points in the civil-military balance. In fact, if there was one province where Kayani was seen to continue with Musharraf’s policy it was in Balochistan.

But despite all the difficulties, the PPP government completed its tenure and for the first time in the country’s history, one civilian government transferred power to a second one — under Gen Kayani’s watch.

The other highlight of Gen Kayani’s tenure was the fight against terrorism. He had inherited a highly demoralised force, some of whose men surrendered to the Taliban months before he assumed the command.

But the new chief soon managed to turn this army into an effective fighting force.

During his tenure, Operation Raah-e-Raast and Raah-e-Nijaat, among others, were undertaken, clearing Swat and six of the seven tribal agencies. Though North Waziristan continues to serve as a reminder that Kayani leaves without completing his counter-terrorism agenda. Some went so far as to allege that Kayani in his second tenure appeared indecisive on the issue of militancy.

But regardless of this criticism, his will be remembered as a tenure where words mattered as much as actions — Kayani’s willingness to accept that internal threats were the greatest risk to Pakistan’s security was widely lauded — internally as well as internationally.

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