Who is General Ashfaq Kiyani?
The first commando President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, has shown his hand. In a move clearly aimed at giving up his uniform and becoming a bona fide civilian president, he has finally appointed Lieutenant-General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani as his successor to head the country’s most powerful institution of the army. With only one day left in his crucial presidential election, Musharraf promoted on October 2 one of his closest confidants and a time-tested loyalist – Lieutenant-General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani as the Vice-Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS), who would eventually take over as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on vacation of that office.As per the ISPR announcement, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani has been appointed the VCOAS in place of General Ahsan Saleem Hayat who is retiring on October 8. During the hearing of the constitutional petitions filed in the Supreme Court against his dual offices, General Musharraf had informed the apex court through his lawyers that he would leave the slot of the army chief before his oath taking as the president for another five year term, ‘if’ he wins the election. The appointment of Kiyani as the VCOAS and becoming Musharraf’s successor is the clearest indication yet that Musharraf will follow through on his promise and give up his uniform after his likely re-election on October 6. Analysts believe Kiyani’s nomination is meant to ensure that Musharraf remains in control of the armed forces, as he prepares to become a civilian president eight years after his October 1999 military coup. Interestingly, Kiyani will be the first chief of army staff the country has had since independence to work under his former boss – Musharraf. He is, however, not the first director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to have been chosen for the coveted slot of the army chief. On October 12, 1999, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had appointed the then ISI chief, Lieutenant-General Ziauddin Butt, considered to be his loyalist, as the army chief. However, the new COAS as well as the prime minister were sacked a few hours later in a counter-coup staged by General Musharraf.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani’s appointment as army chief designate has placed him in the pivotal position from which coup d’états have traditionally been staged. He was the chief of the all-powerful ISI, but was replaced on September 21, 2007 by Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj in a batch of top level military promotions. By naming Kiyani as his successor, Musharraf has attempted to bring in a tested loyalist to ensure that he himself does not fall victim to military intervention when he becomes a civilian president. However, military circles say General Kiyani meets all the three conditions of becoming the army chief – seniority, competence and loyalty. They add that in choosing Kiyani, Musharraf has stuck to the principle of seniority and avoided any superseding. Kiyani was the senior-most serving lieutenant-general in the army, barring Lieutenant-General Khalid Ahmed Kidwai. Currently Director General Strategic Plans Division, Kidwai is senior to Kiyani, but the fact remains that he is already on extension after crossing the age of superannuation. In the past, the seniority principle in khaki appointments had not been strictly adhered to, such as when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed General Zia and Nawaz Sharif appointed General Musharraf. However, both the prime ministers had to repent their decisions as their chosen ones in violation of the seniority principle ultimately became coup-makers and toppled their governments. Filled with qualities of head and heart, Kiyani is perceived as a purposeful and pragmatic commander and an embodiment of professionalism. Considered in the army circles as a liberal and thinking general, Kiyani is a chain smoker with a tendency to mumble. Excellence and perfection are said to be the hallmarks of his personality. An avid golfer and a keen sportsman, Kiyani also happens to be the President of the Pakistan Golf Association. Military circles point out that it is after a long interval that the army’s command is being assumed by a traditional Punjabi soldier who comes from the Potohari belt of Jhelum. The harsh and arid region of Jhelum is famed throughout the Subcontinent for only one product – soldiers. The last traditional Punjabi soldier to have become the army chief was General Asif Nawaz, who died under mysterious circumstances in January 1993 – being the only COAS to have expired before the completion of his three-year tenure. Military circles say the rise of General Kiyani through the ranks of the Pakistan Army has been rapid, if not extraordinary. They point out that this would be the first time that the son of a non-commissioned officer (NCO) would head the Pakistan Army. His humble background as the son of an NCO has endeared him to the junior ranks of the army. Kiyani received his education from Military College Jhelum and was commissioned in the Baloch Regiment in August 1971. He has held many important military appointments throughout his career. He is a graduate of the Command and Staff College Quetta, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, US and National Defence College, Islamabad. Having commanded an infantry battalion, infantry brigade, infantry division and a corps, Kiyani possesses wide-ranging experience in command, instructional and staff appointments. Besides participating in the 1971 war, he has served as Brigade Major in two Infantry Brigades, General Staff Officer-1 and Director Military Operations in Military Operations Directorate, Director General in Military Intelligence Directorate and has been the Chief of the General Staff of the Pakistan Army. With distinctions in his education and professional career, both in Pakistan and abroad, Kiyani has been appointed to command the Pakistan Army at a time when Pakistan is passing through a very critical phase of its history. Although Kiyani has always kept a low public profile, people who have worked closely with him speak highly of his abilities – more highly in some cases than his boss might like. They describe him as a tough commander and a hard task master who not only excels in professional military matters and affairs of internal and external security, but also belongs to a rare breed of army officers who have a sound intellectual base. To them, he is an improved version of former COAS General Jehangir Karamat, who was made to leave the slot of the army chief by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Incidentally, General Kiyani happened to be the only intelligence chief who did not file an affidavit before the Supreme Court against Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry while defending Musharraf in the presidential reference filed against the top judge. Insiders say during the meeting held at Musharraf’s office at which the decision to suspend him was taken, Kiyani was the only person who kept quiet and did not utter a word either in support of Musharraf’ decision or in criticism of the CJ. However, his close associates say whatever Ashfaq Kiyani did shows his professionalism, and the fact remains that he is a dedicated Musharraf loyalist who is being made the next COAS primarily because his boss believes that he is the best man to shore up vital support for him after he quits his army job to become a civilian head of state.Following the two assassination attempts on General Musharraf in Rawalpindi way back in December 2003, Kiyani was tasked to head the successful investigations. Within months, he unravelled both the plots and arrested most of those involved, which earned him the president’s trust and gratitude. “When Kiyani got tough, the problems of coordination disappeared and the agencies started working like a well-oiled machine,” recalls Musharraf himself in his autobiography, In the Line of Fire. Kiyani was rewarded in 2004 with promotion to the chief of ISI, and the next year his agency scored big with the arrest of al Qaeda’s most wanted chief operational commander, Abu Faraj Libbi, who had allegedly masterminded the Rawalpindi assassination attempts on Musharraf’s life. However, his critics point out that even though he has been projected as a highly successful chief of the ISI, it was during his tenure that the neo-Taliban staged a comeback in the tribal areas of Pakistan with a big bang and the Pakistan Army practically lost control over the Pashtun belt, thus enabling al Qaeda to establish its sanctuaries in the Waziristan region on the Pak-Afghan border.At the same time, however, the Pakistani media reports say the US has strongly backed Kiyani’s elevation as the COAS because of his being in the good books of Washington, his known loyalty to General Musharraf, his proximity to Benazir Bhutto, and hopes that he would improve the falling morale of the Pakistan Army besides vigorously pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives in the tribal belt. Kiyani’s role as negotiator for Musharraf trying to strike a power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto during their London parleys in August showed for the first time the closeness he shares with his boss. He had been directly involved in the Musharraf-Benazir talks because of his past association with Benazir, being her deputy military secretary during her first tenure as the prime minister. The media reports say in her deal-dialogue with Musharraf, Benazir wanted her consented future COAS once General Musharraf doffed his uniform. Kiyani had never been into the deal business in the past, but it now appears that his presence in Abu Dhabi seemed relevant to his selection as the army chief. Commenting on the appointment, media reports said that General Kiyani has all the pluses of today, which would become a great challenge for him in the days to come. One media report said, “Competence is always important, but in the present situation it is all the more vital because of the serious challenges that General Kiyani has to confront. The general has to first restore the image of the army and redeem its respect among civilians, he will have to show and prove to the people of Pakistan that he is a true professional, but all the more crucial challenge would be the US pressure on its so-called war on terror and the ongoing military operations in the tribal areas. Only through his competence and professionalism would Kiyani be required to keep a balance between the US pressure and local sensitivities. Only time would tell if he would revise the present military strategy vis-à-vis the US-led war on terror and the ongoing military deployment in the tribal areas. He will really have to assert himself to keep a balance between the international challenges and the local demands.”The writer is the former editor of weekly Independent, currently affiliated with Gulf News and the Spanish News Agency EFE as its Pakistan incharge