Gen. Kayani leaves behind an insecure Pakistan
Most security and political analysts do not underestimate the might of the Pakistani military. The Pakistani military chief is considered more powerful than prime minister or president. The generals of the ubiquitous army, which has collectively ruled the Islamic Republic for more than three decades, call the shots and have the last say in matters related to defense and foreign policy, experts say.
Some even claim that the army and its intelligence agencies – particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – interfere in domestic politics and the civilian administration has to follow their orders.
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani (right in the main picture), who succeeded former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf in 2007 – has been commanding this powerful institution for six years. But the “most powerful man” in Pakistan is about to step down, leaving an uncertain future behind.
General Kayani’s term as army chief is ending on November 29. The government says that Prime Minister Sharif - who is technically the supreme commander of the military – will announce the name of Kayani’s successor on the day of the general’s retirement.
But what legacy is Kayani leaving behind? Will he be remembered as a general who supported civilian democracy after almost a decade of military rule? Will he be viewed as an army chief in whose tenure Islamist militancy became stronger? Will his successor continue his policies at a time when neighboring Afghanistan stands at a crucial juncture of its history as NATO troops prepare to leave the war-torn country next year?
“As an institution, the Pakistani army has not cut off ties with Islamist extremist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, and the Quetta Shura,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, a Washington-based Pakistani political expert. “Under Kayani’s leadership, some segments of the Pakistani military developed contempt for the Taliban but this does not represent a shift in the army’s institutional support for radical groups.”
Akbar believes that Kayani is only opposed to some factions of the Pakistani Taliban because the militants continued to attack his soldiers and bases.
“I believe General Kayani didn’t make as much effort to fight extremism in Pakistan as Musharraf did,” Akbar told DW.
Islamabad-based retired army general and security analyst Talat Masood thinks otherwise. He told DW in an interview that Kayani launched a number of successful military operations against militant Islamists. “The operations in Swat and South Waziristan were very successful in pushing back the Taliban. It is true that Kayani was reluctant to do the same in North Waziristan but then his hands were tied. He didn’t get any backing from the civilian government,” Masood said, adding that the first three years of Kayani’s term were quite effective in the fight against terror.
“I would like to know how good they (Kayani’s first three years) were?” Islamabad-based peace activist and writer Arshad Mahmood asked, adding that the security situation had deteriorated in the last six years and that the army was equally responsible for it.
“Kayani has recently said he is proud of leading the ‘best army in the world.’ I want to know what this best army has achieved so far?” questioned Mahmood. “Today, Pakistan is considered a safe haven for terrorists who come here from all over the world. There is no writ of the state in many parts of the country. Sectarian violence has increased. People don’t feel safe anywhere in Pakistan.”
Mahmood told DW that the Pakistani generals seemed to be “cut off from reality” as they were unaware of the affairs of the world. “They still pursue the so-called ‘strategic depth’ and ‘deep state’ ideology to use Afghanistan as their backyard against India.”
Kayani’s admirers say that unlike most of his predecessors, the general did not interfere in politics and supported the country’s democratic setup.
“The fact that former President Zardari’s government was able to finish its tenure and transferred the power to Sharif is in itself a big achievement for Kayani as the army chief,” Masood said. The analyst, however, admitted that the influence of the army over domestic and foreign policy affairs didn’t lessen under Kayani. “On the whole, Kayani’s tenure was not anti-democracy.”
Akbar, however, disagrees: “Kayani kept on staging soft coups against the former civilian government of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He didn’t, or couldn’t stage a full coup for two reasons: one, since the US raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, the army has remained deeply embarrassed and demoralized; two, the army also couldn’t convince the nation that it was succeeding in fighting the Taliban.” Experts also say that the regional and international scenarios also didn’t allow the army to rule directly.
Akbar said that the military, under Kayani’s command, opposed former Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani‘s plans to bring the ISI under the civilian control, and it resented the US Kerry- Lugar Bill that reduced its funding.
There are four generals who are in the running to replace Kayani – Haroon Aslam, a former head of Pakistani Special Forces, who was involved in successful missions to end the Taliban’s control in the northwestern Swat Valley in 2009; Tariq Khan, who led similar operations in South Waziristan and Bajaur; and Rashad Mahmood and Raheel Sharif, also senior generals in the Pakistani army.
Masood believes the senior most general should replace Kayani. “The one who has a good training in defeating insurgency and who is also good at dealing with Pakistani politicians and the international community.”
The security expert says he hopes PM Sharif will appoint Kayani’s successor on merit. “His past experience with General Musharraf was not good, but that should not affect his decision now. The time for a military coup in Pakistan is over.”
Former president and army chief Musharraf – who is facing criminal charges – led a coup to overthrow Sharif in 1999 after the then PM appointed his “trusted general” over the senior general Musharraf.