Musharraf successor Kayani boosts Pakistan Army's image

His changes push officers to focus on eradicating terrorism, rather than on politics or securing perks.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    New leader: Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani greets soldiers on Jan. 25 in an undisclosed location in Pakistan.
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Little more than two months into his tenure as the chief of Pakistan's enormously influential Army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has begun to systematically reverse some of the most significant policies of his predecessor, President Pervez Musharraf.

He has issued two key directives: prohibiting soldiers from meeting with politicians and ordering all active officers who hold posts in civilian agencies to resign from those positions. Those orders contrast starkly with those promoted by Mr. Musharraf when he was Army chief.

It is an indication that General Kayani is taking his Army in the direction that the United States had hoped he would – attempting to refocus officers on the task of securing the country from terrorists, rather than playing politics or vying for public perks. Kayani has led the military's recently renewed campaign against militants in their stronghold in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt.

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The shift is welcome in Pakistan, too, where the interference of the military into public life was seen as reaching new heights under Musharraf, and the Army – long revered as Pakistan's bulwark – was falling into disrepute.

"This war [against terrorists] will require the full support of the people," says Talat Masood, a former Army general, now an independent analyst in Islamabad. "All these things are very positive."

The military has become a target of militants – the Feb. 4 suicide attack in Rawalpindi, where the military is headquartered, was the seventh in six months.

Kayani's orders come at a time when Musharraf's support among his most important constituency – the military – appears to be waning. In recent weeks, dozens of retired military officers – including a former Army chief and several war heroes – sent an open letter to Musharraf asking him to resign as president. They argued that his continued presence in politics was hindering the nation.

"This was a very significant letter," says Ikram Sehgal, editor of Defence Journal. He suggests that it was an indirect way for the active military to convey to its former chief that "it's time for you to go."

That doesn't suggest the Army is on the verge of forcing Musharraf from office, and Kayani's reforms do not appear aimed at Musharraf personally, but rather at undoing the damage Musharraf did to the military's image.

Under Musharraf, military officers were installed in many influential civilian posts, alienating Pakistanis, who saw this as an abuse of power.

By recalling these people, Kayani is sending "a very strong message," says Mr. Sehgal.

Moreover, in the past year, an increasingly unpopular Musharraf tainted the Army by association through his dual role of president and Army chief. Even now, months after he resigned from the Army, there is a perception that there will be widespread rigging of the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections – with the military's aid or consent – to prop up Musharraf's political allies.

Kayani's political directive is intended to counter that fear, experts say. "This is saying: 'We are not in the business of manipulating politics,' " says Najam Sethi, an editor of the Daily Times, a Lahore-based newspaper.

Kayani's goal is to rebuild the Army's professionalism. The loss of focus under Musharraf is one reason Pakistani units performed so poorly in initial counterinsurgency operations in the tribal belt, says Mr. Masood. "He knows there are great shortcomings in terms of fighting the war on terror – with equipment, with training, with morale," he adds. "He's trying to make the forces as effective as possible."

But it is still to early, analysts caution. There is the hope that these are the first few steps toward withdrawing the Army from public policy, analysts say. Army leaders have run the country for 37 of its 60 years, and for Pakistan to build a true democracy, its Army needs to rein in its influence, analysts agree.

"Kayani has been a pleasant surprise," says Sehgal. "But the jury is still out."

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