A second term for Gen Kayani

24 Jul 2010

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Like it or not, the extension does not reflect well on the army as an institution. -File Photo
It was the worst-kept secret in the country Prime Minister Gilani's announcement that army chief Gen Kayani is to be granted an extension in service came as a surprise to no one.

The only thing that could be termed a little surprising was the length of the extension. Gen Kayani has effectively been handed a second three-year term, instead of a shorter extension. At this point, with the army's strategy in the fight against militancy not as transparent as could be hoped for, it is difficult to comment on what Gen Kayani's extension will mean for the specifics of that war. However, while there should be no doubt that winning the war against the militants is essential to the survival of this country as we know it, Gen Kayani's extension must not be seen only through that prism.

Like it or not, the extension does not reflect well on the army as an institution. It is almost an article of faith that the Pakistan Army is the only viable, strong and vibrant institution in the country. Whatever Gen Kayani's intimate familiarity with the present state of affairs and whatever his unique understanding of the situation, a strong institution should be able to withstand the retirement of one man, however experienced. A compelling example of institutional concerns coming before individuals was provided recently by the US, where the architect of the present American counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan was replaced. This in the middle of a war that is by all accounts going badly for the US. Here in Pakistan, the public is constantly told that the internal security situation has improved, that the TTP is on the back foot, that progress, while slow, is real and meaningful.

If it seems difficult to reconcile the idea of a strong institution having depth in talent and leadership with the 'indispensability' of a single man, then that's because it truly is. Step back from the specifics of the present case and consider this why does the principle of a regular change in leadership of the army even exist? It is not simply to give another general a go at the top slot. Regular, scheduled changes in leadership are in fact meant to keep institutions vibrant and strong. That there are 'special circumstances' at the present time is not fully convincing either. Externally, the uncertainty in Afghanistan, the intransigence of India, the unpredictability of the Americans — all these circumstances have existed before, and the country has survived them. Internally, the fight against militancy is going to be a long, hard slog, the public is constantly told, with many years or perhaps even a decade and a half needed to see out the threat. How does a three-year extension affect that long-term course? Lest we forget, it was just a few years ago that another general believed in his indispensability and trampled over the constitution for a second time, and yet, here the country is still surviving, perhaps even better off since the dark days of Gen Musharraf's drawn-out exit.

Having said that, it is the decision of a democratically elected government to hand Gen Kayani his three-year extension. The public does not know yet, perhaps it never will, if the decision was a total capitulation or the result of a quid pro quo. Nevertheless, the government's decision stands as a legal and effective one and should be accepted as such. Therefore, we wish Gen Kayani success in his second term and take this chance to remind him of the oath he has taken under the constitution. “I do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which embodies the will of the people, that I will not engage myself in any political activities whatsoever and that I will honestly and faithfully serve Pakistan in the Pakistan Army as required by and under the law.”