Pakistan re-appointed its military chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, for three years as it fights a growing war against Taliban factions near its border with Afghanistan.
The decision, announced by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, keeps in place the country’s real policy maker on security issues, said independent political analysts such as Talat Masood, a retired army lieutenant general. “That stability is probably essential” as Pakistan confronts U.S. pressure to expand the offensive to other Taliban groups that have long been its allies, Masood said in a phone interview in the capital, Islamabad.
“The nation is going through difficult times in this war against terrorists,” Gilani said in announcing the decision last night. Kayani “has successfully led us in this war and his staying on is in our best interests.”
Kayani, 57, was due to retire in November after a three- year term. Since last year, he has led the army into a string of offensives to recapture areas taken over by Taliban militants.
U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan to send its army into North Waziristan, a district on the Afghan border where the Taliban faction led by Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani bases its fight against U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan. The army is reluctant to attack the Haqqanis, who for decades have been its allies in Afghanistan’s conflicts.
Still, U.S. officials have praised Kayani for his cooperation, notably in March, when he accompanied Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on a visit to Washington for bilateral talks.
Kayani has provided critical help to the U.S. military in Afghanistan by helping to secure Pakistani highways as a supply line that carries half of U.S. war materiel for the Afghan war. And he has allowed the missile strikes by remotely piloted drone aircraft with which the U.S. has targeted Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal zone along the Afghan border.
While Gilani holds the formal authority to name military commanders, the army chief wields more power on policy, Masood said. The military has ruled Pakistan for nearly 33 of the 63 years since the country was carved out of British-ruled India and during periods of civilian rule has kept the leading role in developing national security policy.
While Kayani has kept a low public profile and accepts civilian input in policy making, scholars say, he demonstrated his power in 2008 by forcing Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to retract an order shifting supervision of the country’s main intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter- Services Intelligence, from Kayani to the civilian leadership.
Kayani is a native of Jhelum, a part of the Punjab province known for producing soldiers. He joined the army in 1971 and served in that year’s war against India.