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Pakistan's top general reins in own Army

Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani has been curtailing the political influence of a military accustomed to running the country.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Issam AhmedContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / December 12, 2008

Reform: Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has curtailed the Army's political influence.

Zhou Lei/Xinhua/Newscom



In recent weeks Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly promised to cooperate with India and uproot terrorism. Yet Ashfaq Kayani is the one who can deliver.

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As Army Chief, General Kayani is the man behind the curtain of Pakistani power, controlling an Army that has ruled for much of Pakistan's 61 years. Without Kayani's support, Mr. Zardari can do little against Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group tied to the Mumbai (formerly Bombay) attacks.

One year into the job, Kayani has been a reformer – clipping the Army's interference in politics and mounting offensives against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

But today's crisis poses unique challenges: His Army is stretched and in no mood to do its archrival's bidding.

As India applies more pressure, the days ahead will test Zardari, Kayani, and Pakistan's often-inverted chain of command.

"We are starting to see a greater cooperation between the government and the Army," says Ahmed Rashid, a political analyst in Lahore. But, he adds, it is a "fluid situation that is changing day to day."

Thursday, as India announced plans to restructure its counterterrorism forces it also had strong words for Pakistan. In an address to Parliament, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Pakistan's arrest this week of several Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders was not enough, demanding that Pakistan turn over 40 people it lists as terrorists.

He also hinted at India's suspicions that the Army, and not the civilian government, is running Pakistan. Though he pleaded with Pakistan to "please act," he added that India had "no quarrel" with the democratic government.

There is some truth in his statement, says Mr. Rashid. "The Army is still in control of foreign policy and policy with regards to India and Afghanistan," he says. "If the Army doesn't want to do something it won't."

That was true in July, when Pakistan's civilian leaders tried to bring the nation's top intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, under the control of the Interior Ministry. The Army denied the move. The Army has also refused to hand over control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

But the dynamic is slowly changing, Rashid says. Kayani has removed some 3,000 active and retired military personnel from civilian government posts, and he deactivated the political wing of the ISI, which had long been accused of intimidating or blackmailing politicians opposed to the Army.

He continued to subordinate the military to civilian control last week by allowing the disbanding of the National Security Council, an influential panel dominated by the president and military.

Its functions will now be fulfilled by the parliamentary Defense Committee, which made the decision to arrest the Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders earlier this week, Rashid says.

Kayani's purpose is to move the Army back toward its core functions, such as war fighting, and away from political intrigue, says Shuja Nawaz, author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within."

"It appears that the Army is trying to retool itself and is quite happy for the civilians to make the decisions," he says. After the Musharraf years, in which Army generals got rich off real estate and construction deals, Kayani "is convinced that the military needs to return to its professional roots."