Army Chief To Serve 3 More Years In Pakistanhttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The government extended the term of Pakistan’s army chief by three years on Thursday, a move backed by the United States as it seeks to encourage Pakistan as a more reliable ally against Taliban and Qaeda militants.
The unusual extension for the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was announced by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who described the general as essential to the nation’s fight against militancy.
The general had been scheduled to retire in November.
General Kayani has led the Pakistani military since November 2007, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf stepped aside. He has been a focal point for the Obama administration, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who has paid regular visits to General Kayani to encourage him to stop the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban from crossing into Afghanistan and fighting American forces.
The Americans have praised General Kayani for his army’s campaigns against the Pakistani Taliban but, behind the scenes, the Americans have been disappointed with the general’s failure to disown the Afghan Taliban, who benefit from sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The United States pays the Pakistani military an estimated $1 billion a year to fight the militants. The American military has also depended on General Kayani’s quiet permission for the C.I.A. drones striking at Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the tribal areas, and has been appreciative of his efforts to ensure transit on the supply route to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan.
The general attended courses at two prestigious American military academies, the infantry school at Fort Benning, Ga., and the Army Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., a background that allows him to confer easily with his American counterparts.
In Pakistan, General Kayani is regarded as the nation’s most powerful official, an unassuming, brainy general who is personally not corrupt but who heads an institution known for its endemic corruption and huge budget. As the army chief he is guardian of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
In a presentation to foreign journalists earlier this year, the general made it clear that a richer, bigger India remained Pakistan’s chief enemy and that he would not allow the effort against militants to distract Pakistan from its vigilance against India.
During his nearly three years at the helm, General Kayani, 58, has paid attention to the well-being of soldiers, organizing across-the-board pay raises earlier this year and visiting troops in remote corners of the country.
Before assuming the top job in the military, he was the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-services Intelligence, a position that gave him intimate knowledge of Pakistan’s myriad militant organizations, including those it uses as proxies to fight India and those now fighting American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
General Kayani’s extension was not unexpected. The weak civilian government appears to be grateful to have an army chief that at least consults it, and Mr. Zardari and Mr. Gilani were known to be willing to go along with General Kayani’s desire to stay longer.
Although Pakistan’s military dictators have often given themselves extensions, civilian governments have rarely approved longer terms.
Earlier this year, the civilian government extended the term of Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of the ISI.
The news that General Kayani would serve for another three years was received with mixed reviews.
“Kayani is supposed to preside over the finest institution in the country and if he regards himself as indispensable, it cannot be read in a positive way,” said Cyril Almeida, an editor at Dawn, the country’s most prestigious newspaper.“Having said that, clearly something is about to change in Afghanistan, and the army here feels need for continuity. He has understood the regional developments and has familiarity and dexterity of issues that might not exist in another officer right now.”