Pakistan extends term of Army chief amid applause - and doubt

Pakistan extends Army chief's term by three years. But some political analysts worry that General Kayani's extension – the first of its kind when a civilian government has held power – will undermine the authority of Pakistan’s parliament.

By , Correspondent

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    Chief of Pakistan's Army staff, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani (r.), meets with troops during his visit to the headquarters of the Army Strategic Forces Command (ASFC) in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on May 27. Kayani has been awarded a three-year extension late Thursday, July 22, citing the need for continuity in the country’s ongoing campaign against Taliban insurgents.
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Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani awarded his military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a three-year extension late Thursday, citing the need for continuity in the country’s ongoing campaign against Taliban insurgents.

The anticipated move is seen as a nod to the Pakistani military’s successful campaigns under Kayani’s command, which have earned him accolades both at home and the United States.

“Owing to the ongoing military operations against terrorists, it is important to maintain the element of continuity in the military leadership.” Mr. Gilani said in a brief televised address.

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But some political analysts worry that the extension – the first of its kind when a civilian government has held power in the country – will undermine the authority of Pakistan’s parliament.

Kayani was originally due to retire on Nov. 28, 2010, but will now remain in office until 2013, while both Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari retire in March and September 2013, respectively.

 America’s Choice?

In addition to military campaigns in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and South Waziristan that wrested back control of territory from the Taliban, Kayani has won praise from US officials for protecting NATO supply lines to Afghanistan.

“The extension has been given not for political reasons but for professional reasons,” says retired Pakistani Army Gen. Talat Masood, a military analyst. “We’re in battle and it would be somewhat risky to change command at this time. He has led the military well, and he’s been a supporter of democracy,” he adds.

Other see the decision as undermining Pakistan’s civilian institutions. While conceding that the move is probably not borne out of personal ambition, Rasul Baksh Raaes, a political analyst at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, says Kayani’s extension “reinforces that the civilian leaders have failed to establish their constitutional supremacy over the military and the military remains a very powerful institution.”

Kayani’s good rapport with top American military, including Gen. David Petraeus, is also widely believed to have been crucial in securing his extension.

Pakistan has seen military rule for 33 years out of its 62-year history since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, including, most recently, Kayani’s predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who handed over military control to Kayani in November 2008.

More misgivings

Kayani, the son of junior officer Lehrasab Khan, joined the Pakistani military in 1971, before rising to become chief of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Though well respected by his peers, Kayani’s extension may create some misgivings among those officers passed up for promotion, writes retired Pakistani Army officer Kamran Shafi in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English daily.

“The Pakistan Army, we are told ad nauseam, is one of the best fighting forces in the world, commanded by some of the finest strategists in the universe. Is there no one who can replace Kayani then, when his tenure is over and he goes home like many generals before him, even some graceful Pakistani generals?”

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