Kayani: A non-political general

July 28, 2010

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“About two months ago, I met General Kayani and he had very categorically said that he was not willing to accept an extension,” said (retd.) Group Captain Sultan Hali in the programme, 'Reporter' on DawnNews TV.

It was surprising to learn about General Kayani's intentions from Captain Hali who has been the spokesman of Pakistan Air Force for a long time and is now on the Inter Services approved list of defence analysts.

The next question was obviously as to what transpired during the past two months which made General Kayani accept an extension which has raised questions about his reputation as a professional soldier.

“There is a lot which has changed during the past two months which may have convinced General Kayani to change his mind about accepting an invitation,” said Captain Hali. “There may have been pressure from the Americans who want continuity in the policies in the war against terror. Secondly, the elected government’s decision to give an extension to him forced General Kayani to accept the decision."

“I have also heard that former generals, including former Army Chief General Abdul Waheed Kakar also tried to convince General Kayani to accept the invitation,” Captain Hali added.

It is surprising that the US changed the line of command from General Stanley McChrystal to General Petraeus during an offensive in Afghanistan but wanted General Kayani to continue in Pakistan. And that too, without any attempts at lobbying by the vested lobbies which had already ensured an extension for DG ISI Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

An important factor in this decision was a Corps Commanders meeting just before Prime Minister Gilani announced the extension.

“I think General Kayani sought the opinion of the Corps Commanders in a meeting of the top military brass,” said Abida Hussain.

Was history repeating itself a la Kerry Lugar Bill controversy sparked by the military’s objections on the civilian aid package and its conditionalities? Was Gilani’s hand forced to ensure continuation of the system with General Kayani as a guarantor of the NRO power-sharing deal as mentioned in the UN report on BB’s assassination?

“Pakistan Army is hardly a trade union that they decide to elect XYZ as their leader. When it happened, it was wrong. It was as wrong as the objections raised by the Corps Commanders on the Kerry Lugar Bill,” said Kamran Shafi, a defence analyst.

General Kayani cultivated an image as a professional, democracy-loving general with lot of effort. The hasty decision by the government to announce his three-year extension, beyond even its own tenure, has raised questions about the “soldier of the soldiers.” The parliament did not debate the important issue of extension nor was it summoned for the purpose.

Defence analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, the author of Military Inc. says, "Pakistan Army is a political Army and its chief is a political general. The three-year extension given to General Kayani seems to be an extension of the NRO deal.”

Renowned TV anchor and journalist, Talat Hussain was of the opinion that General Kayani saved his reputation carefully for the past two-and-a-half years. “Even if he interfered politically, he did not let his political ambitions come forth. The government’s argument that General Kayani will ensure continuation of the system, will make him political or impose a political colour on the Chief of Army Staff. His (General Kayani’s) new tenure has not started yet but he is already getting controversial,” said Hussain.

General Kayani has taken a number of measures which indicate his political interventions. Measures that have now started to reveal the true colours of a man who generally keeps quiet and who hasn't given a single interview to any Pakistani media outlet. However, midnight meetings with leaders of opposition parties and background meetings with selected group of journalists has helped build his image as the quiet General.

How quiet General Kayani really is can be gauged from the chain of events which started with his presence at the meeting of spy chiefs with General Musharraf on the fateful evening of March 2007 leading to the dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. With an eye on the unfolding events and the bigger power game, General Kayani was the only man who did not submit an affidavit against Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Other chips in General Kayani’s bag also includes being a negotiator of NRO deal (UN Report in BB assassination) to a behind-the-scenes role in the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as well as giving authorisation to the Army’s public relations directorate to make the objections on Kerry Lugar Bill public. Will the General keep carrying on with his reputation of being a 'quiet General' if the Supreme Court asks him to implement its any adverse verdict on NRO? That’s a test which General Kayani has to pass through in the following months all the while being politically sagacious and maintaining his reputation as a non-political General.

Arshad Sharif is the Islamabad Bureau Chief of DawnNews. He tweets at http://twitter.com/dawntvreporter and can be found on Facebook.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.