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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Musharraf's Army Chief Abandons Him as Ouster Looms (Update1)

By James Rupert

Aug. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani owes his powerful post to Pervez Musharraf and now may be the only person who can save the embattled president's job.

Unfortunately for Musharraf, Kayani has opted to stay out of the fight, leaving his patron to choose between resigning or facing impeachment proceedings he has a good chance of losing. Musharraf's spokesman denied press reports the President will resign soon.

``I don't know where they are getting these reports,'' Rashid Qureshi said by telephone today. ``I have been hearing this for months.'' Musharraf told his political supporters today he won't quit and will fight impeachment proceedings, GEO Television reported today, without saying where it got the information.

The army chief has told both sides he wants the confrontation between Musharraf, 65, and parliament's ruling coalition settled without public upheaval, said Shuja Nawaz, a political analyst whose brother ran the army from 1991 to 1993.

Kayani's reticence means the armed forces that brought Musharraf to power in a 1999 coup probably won't support any invocation of his authority to dismiss parliament because that might incite street protests.

``The army does not want to be seen on the side of an unpopular president against the people,'' said retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood, an independent political consultant in Islamabad. ``It needs the support of the people in its fight.''

Musharraf's Detractors

Kayani also is unlikely to let Musharraf's detractors put him on trial once he leaves office for leading the coup because ``that would draw the military into politics,'' Nawaz said.

Kayani, who seldom speaks publicly and declined to be interviewed, has displayed his independence since last year, when as intelligence chief he refused to back Musharraf's firing of Pakistan's chief justice. The dismissal sparked protests as many Pakistanis turned against the president.

Before February elections that put anti-Musharraf lawmakers in control of Parliament, Kayani ordered officers to cut off contact with politicians because the military had been accused of meddling in past votes.

Important Ally

The army's effective abandonment of Musharraf may put an end to nine years on the world stage that saw Pakistan's economy expand at an average annual rate of 7.5 percent since 2004. Under Musharraf, Pakistan was one of the Bush administration's most important Muslim world allies in the fight against Islamic extremists, including al-Qaeda.

The military's refusal to intercede also may help end a stalemate over his fate that has paralyzed the ruling coalition since it trounced Musharraf's allies in the February elections. Nawaz Sharif, the man he deposed in the 1999 coup, and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, head the two biggest parties and are leading the impeachment challenge.

His departure ``is the only way the government can get back to dealing with the real issues,'' including Pakistan's highest inflation rate in 30 years and its fight against resurgent Taliban extremists along the Afghan border, Masood said.

The 550,000-strong army is Pakistan's most formidable institution: Four of its 14 commanders have gone on to take power, and the military has ruled for half the nation's 61-year history. Musharraf was the army's chief when he seized power, and he assumed the presidency in 2001 before handing his military title to Kayani last November under domestic and international pressure.

U.S. Officials

Since late last year, a stream of U.S. officials has visited Kayani. Among them: Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, CIA Director Michael Hayden, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Admiral William Fallon, then the commander of U.S. Central Command.

``He recognizes the huge responsibility that's on his shoulders as the chief of the army, which is the one institution in the country that reaches throughout society and has been a foundation of stability, such as it exists, in Pakistan,'' said Fallon, now retired.

Kayani, 56, the son of a non-commissioned officer, joined the army in 1971 and rose through the ranks as an infantry officer. He served as a military aide to Bhutto in the 1980s.

The future general pursued training at the U.S. Army's Fort Benning, in Georgia, and graduate studies at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

`Careful and Analytical'

He ``is very careful and analytical,'' said Barry Shapiro, a retired U.S. Army colonel who studied with Kayani at the Defense Department's Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu in 1997.

During that three-month course, Kayani ``paid to bring his family along and enroll his son in a U.S. public high school,'' said Shapiro. ``He wanted them exposed to new experiences, and that is part of his thought process.'' Much of the Pakistani officer corps ``sees the world through a very narrow aperture, but Kayani is not content with that.''

After Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda twice bombed Musharraf's motorcade in 2003, the president assigned Kayani to find the plotters, most of whom were arrested within months.

Musharraf's 2006 memoir, ``In the Line of Fire,'' praised the general for ending turf battles in the armed forces.

``When Kayani got tough, the problems of coordination disappeared and the agencies started working like a well-oiled machine,'' Musharraf wrote. The president named Kayani in 2004 to head the main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

On March 9, 2007, Musharraf summoned Kayani and other military and intelligence officials to a meeting with Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as he was considering a legal challenge to the president's re-election. Musharraf demanded the jurist's resignation, accusing him of misconduct. Most of the officials backed the president, according to Pakistani press reports. Kayani sat silently.

In June 2007, the heads of the two other intelligence agencies provided written accusations for Musharraf's legal team to use against Chaudhry. Kayani ``stayed out of it,'' said Nawaz, from Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rupert in Islamabad at

Last Updated: August 15, 2008 04:33 EDT

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