Who, and what, is Ashfaq Kiyani?

28 Nov'07: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has finally quit the Army after remaining Army Chief for nine years. But whether this means he will become a ceremonial head of state or continue to call the shots is a million dollar question.

There is no denying the fact that Gen. Musharraf will lose considerable power because he has vacated the powerful military slot. Though Gen. Musharraf says the new chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, is a trusted man and will back him as a powerful President, this appears to be only a hope.

In 1998, Gen. Musharraf was chosen by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the most trusted man, but within a year Gen. Musharraf toppled him. This can still happen.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto thinks that with Gen. Kiyani and other similar-minded generals taking over the Army, an unpopular Musharraf as a civilian President would be of no benefit.

Gen. Musharraf, however, insists he retains the Army's support and, to that end, the 55-year-old Gen. Kiyani has been appointed his successor. Gen. Kiyani has the rare quality of appealing to Gen. Musharraf, his sponsors in Washington and Ms Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan's largest party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The former head of the powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is routinely described as a professional soldier noted for holding a number of key positions. As director-general of military operations in 2001-02, his expertise is said to have helped Pakistan avoid a disastrous confrontation with India.

According to political analysts Gen. Kiyani not only excels in professional military matters and affairs of internal and external security, but also belongs to a rare breed of military officers who have a sound intellectual base.

Gen. Kiyani is among those credited with turning the ISI away from its pre-9/11 warmth for the Taliban and other Islamist hardliners. He trained, among other places, at General Staff College, Fort Leavensworth, Kansas.

When Ms Bhutto became Prime Minister the first time, Gen. Kiyani served as her deputy military secretary. More recently, he served as President Musharraf's envoy in power-sharing negotiations between the PPP leader and the government.

Military sources suggest that Musharraf appointed Gen. Kiyani as his successor to head the country's most powerful institution, the Army, because he knows the new Army Chief will never let him down.

Analysts believe Gen. Kiyani's nomination is meant to ensure that Musharraf remains in control of the armed forces as he becomes a civilian President after his October 1999 military coup.

Interestingly, General Kiyani is the first Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan since independence to work under his former boss President Musharraf. He is, however, not the first ISI director-general to become Army Chief.

On October 12, 1999, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had appointed the then ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ziauddin Butt, considered loyal, as Army Chief. However, the new COAS and the Prime Minister were sacked a few hours later in a counter-coup staged by Gen. Musharraf.

THE RISE OF GENERAL KIYANI G en. Kiyani's appointment as Army Chief places him in a pivotal position from which coup d'├ętats have traditionally been staged. He was chief of the all-powerful ISI, but was replaced on September 21, 2007 by Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj in a flurry of top-level military promotions. By naming Gen. Kiyani as his successor, Musharraf has attempted to bring in a tested loyalist to ensure that he himself does not fall victim to military intervention while he is a civilian President. "I know Gen. Kiyani since he was a colonel. I trust him and he trusts me," Musharraf recently said.

Incidentally, Gen. Kiyani is the only intelligence chief who did not file an affidavit before the Supreme Court against former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry while defending Musharraf in the presidential reference filed against the top judge.

Insiders say that during the meeting held at Musharraf's office at which the decision to suspend the CJ was taken, Gen. Kiyani was the only person who kept quiet and did not utter a word either in support of Musharraf's decision, or in criticism of the Chief Justice.

However, his close associates say whatever Ashfaq Kiyani did shows his professionalism, and the fact remains that he is a dedicated Musharraf loyalist who has been made COAS primarily because his boss believes he is the best man to shore up vital support for him when he is a civilian head of state.

Following the two assassination attempts on Gen. Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December 2003, Gen. Kiyani was tasked with the heading the investigations. Within months he unravelled both plots and arrested most of those involved, earning him the President's trust and gratitude. "When Kiyani got tough, the problems of coordination disappeared and the agencies started working like a well-oiled machine," Musharraf recalls in his autobiography, In the Line of Fire.

Gen. Kiyani was rewarded in 2004 with promotion to the post of ISI chief, and the next year his agency scored big with the arrest of Al Qaeda's most wanted chief operational commander, Abu Faraj Libbi, who had allegedly masterminded the Rawalpindi assassination attempts on Musharraf's life.

However, his critics point out that even though he has been projected as a highly successful ISI chief, it was during his tenure that the neo-Taliban staged a comeback in the tribal areas of Pakistan with a big bang and the Pakistan Army practically lost control over the Pashtun belt, thus enabling Al Qaeda to establish sanctuaries in the Waziristan region on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

At the same time, however, Pakistani media reports say the US has strongly backed Gen. Kiyani's elevation because he is in Washington's good books, is known to be loyal to Gen. Musharraf, because of his proximity to Ms Benazir Bhutto, and because of hopes that he will improve the falling morale of the Pakistan Army besides vigorously pursuing Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.

BENAZIR, TOO, WANTED KIYANI G en. Kiyani's role as negotiator for Musharraf trying to strike a power-sharing deal with Ms Bhutto during their London parleys in August showed for the first time the closeness he shares with his boss. He had been directly involved in the Musharraf-Bhutto talks because of his past association with Ms Bhutto (he was her deputy military secretary during her first tenure as PM).

Media reports say that in her deal dialogue with Gen. Musharraf, Ms Bhutto wanted her consent taken on the future COAS once Gen. Musharraf had given up his uniform. It now appears that his presence in Abu Dhabi seemed relevant to his selection as Army Chief. Though the seniority principle emerged as a coincidence in Gen. Kiyani's favour, he would have still been elevated to COAS as he is a critical component of the US-scripted plan to allow Gen. Musharraf to stay in power with civilian credentials by making Army Chief a general who is a loyal aide and is also trusted and approved of by America.

The US-Musharraf plan was well known for some time, but what emerged was a report of Ms Bhutto's insistence on Gen. Kiyani's appointment. It is being said in Pakistan that Ms Bhutto had insisted in the "deal" discussed with Gen. Musharraf that he had to approve Gen. Kiyani as a "consented (to) chief" of hers as part of the overall "deal". The future chief had to be someone she could trust.


G en. Musharraf's emergence as a civilian President is unlikely to stem the worsening political turmoil in Pakistan. Musharraf is likely to contest as a civilian President. In such a situation, President Musharraf would have to call on Gen. Kiyani to protect the President's turf. Gen. Kiyani's responses perforce will have to be political. Either he will have to re-use the Pakistan Army as an instrument of political suppression, or replace Gen. Musharraf as President himself. Both courses are possible.

Musharraf's retirement from the Army is widely seen as the most significant development in Pakistan since the 1999 coup that brought him to power.

But the transition has been not smooth. The emergency rule and sacking of judges of the higher judiciary to ensure that the Supreme Court endorses his reelection as President will haunt him as he prepares to share power with a popularly elected Prime Minister and an Army Chief with his own view of the world.

Although President Musharraf will retain powers to dismiss the elected government, his ability to do so will hinge on how popular the Prime Minister is and whether the Army is willing to back such a drastic step. In the past, the Army's support has been crucial for presidential action against elected governments. But in recent years it has lost much credibility as a fighting force and has attracted widespread criticism for dabbling in politics. However, President Musharraf will be counting on the military leadership's shared wish to deny politicians full powers under an "unbridled democracy".


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