Pakistan’s General Kayani given three-year extension

July 22, 2010

kayani profilePakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez  Kayani, is to be given a a three-year extension to his term of office to maintain continuity in the country’s battle against Islamist militants. 

Kayani, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful man, had been due to retire in November. His future had been the subject of intense speculation for months, with opinion divided between the those who argued he should be given an extension for the sake of continuity, and those who said that Pakistan needed to build its institutions rather than rely on individuals – as it had done with powerful army rulers in the past.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who announced the extension, said the decision to extend Kayani’s term reflected “his effective role in the war against terrorism and in the enforcement of rule of law in the country.”

Kayani is considered to have built a good working relationship with the United States - which needs the Pakistan Army’s help in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan – prompting speculation, denied by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, that Washington had pressed for his term of office to be extended.

He has also been the subject of intense speculation in India, where the views of the army – which controls foreign and security policy even under a civilian government – are seen as crucial to determining the fate of the faltering India-Pakistan peace process.

A former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Kayani has been credited with keeping the army out of politics on the whole.  Military analysts also say he has redefined “strategic depth” – an old policy under which Pakistan aimed to use Afghanistan as a rear base in the event of war with India – to suggest instead that the country’s strength should come from a strong economy at home. Yet under his tenure – both as the head of the ISI until 2007 and then as army chief – Pakistan has also been criticised for failing to take strong enough action against Islamist and Taliban militants.

Otherwise, relatively little is known about the thinking of the inscrutable general, who never gives public interviews. Pakistan, its neighbours and the United States and its allies fighting in Afghanistan, will now have another three years to find out.

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