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Ashfaq Kayani: the new man with the baton in Pakistan

Pakistan's president doffed his military uniform Wednesday and handed over a sensitive post.

By Shahan MuftiCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 29, 2007

Islamabad, Pakistan

After 46 years in uniform – including eight as head of state – President Pervez Musharraf has retired from the Pakistani Army. The official step marks a major transformation not only for Mr. Musharraf personally, but for the country's political and military establishments. At the fulcrum between the two powerful institutions will be the new chief of the Army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

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Just as Musharraf blurred the line between Pakistan's civil and military life, observers say General Kayani will now be expected to reverse that dynamic. By withdrawing to the wings but maintaining ultimate authority, Kayani is likely to recast the Army's role as a less political actor. Some former generals expect him to devise new strategies for dealing with the Taliban fighters who control swaths of western Pakistan.

The success with which Kayani is able to achieve this and the manner in which he supports Musharraf in his new civilian role will be scrutinized from Washington to Waziristan.

"Will the Army be willing to give Musharraf all the political backing he will want? There is a big question mark over this," says Talat Masood, a retired general in the Army, who suggests that Kayani will now try to wash the force clean of the heavy political baggage Musharraf accumulated throughout his eight years of military rule. In recent months, popular frustration with the Army's role in civil life has grown, as have the militants' relentless attacks.

"Kayani has no baggage, he's starting with a clean slate," says Mr. Masood. "That will help him in dealing with what he faces as the new chief, independent of anyone's expectations."

At a ceremony at Army headquarters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, Musharraf handed Kayani a wooden baton that symbolizes the transfer of control of Pakistan's half-million strong Army and nuclear arsenal. It was the first time in eight years that the military severed – at least on paper – its connection with civilian politics.

"The Army has been my life. It has been my passion. I have loved this Army," he said in the stoic voice of his military persona. "Though this relationship will continue, I won't be in uniform anymore."

Musharraf is now ready to take an oath of office as a civilian president for the next five-year term on Friday, after being cleared of all legal obstacles by his handpicked Supreme Court last week.

Kayani's strong sense of loyalty

Observers say that Kayani is a wise choice for Musharraf's successor. He is the seniormost officer eligible for the post, and he has demonstrated a unique loyalty to the president. But it is a choice laden with consequence: Three civilian rulers have been deposed by their hand-picked Army chiefs in the past, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whom Musharraf overthrew in 1999.

The Army, however, can be expected to remain loyal to the uniform.

"Kayani is a real professional. I believe he might want to focus on the Army's professional responsibility," says Masood, especially at a time when the country is wrought by internal conflict.

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani

1952: Born in Pakistan's Punjab region; Member of the Gakhar clan. Punjab accounts for roughly 60 percent of recruits to the Pakistani Army. [Editor's Note: The original story misstated Mr. Kayani's tribal affiliation.]

1971: Joined the famed Baluch regiment.

1980s: Attended the US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

1990: Then-Colonel Kayani appointed by Benazir Bhutto as Deputy Military Secretary during her first tenure as prime minister (Bhutto backed him as choice as Army Chief this month). Kayani subsequently served under Prime Ministers Mustafa and Sharif.

January 2001 - Sept. 2003:Served as director general of Military Operations (Kayani held this position during Pakistan's 2002 military confrontation with India).

September 2003: Promoted to lieutenant general and appointed head of the critical command of the Rawalpindi Ten (X) Corps.

October 2004: Installed as director general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, after having investigated two assassination attempts against Musharraf in 2003.

October 4, 2007: Appointed as Musharraf's successor to Pakistan's 14th Army Chief of Staff.

On a lighter note, his only non-military passion is golf. He has been president of Pakistan's Golf Federation since 2003.

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations,, Observer Research Foundation, Startfor Intelligence, News Reports (BBC, Financial Times, The Guardian (Britain), The Washington Post)