General Kayani’s “Silent Coup” in Pakistan: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

What are the consequences of General Kayani's 3 year extension for the US war in Afghanistan?

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Pakistan’s General Kayani, the man our leaders in Washington fawn over and who sits atop the intensely destabilizing “Strategic Depth” networks in Afghanistan, has just been handed a three year extension of his term as Chief of Army Staff by Prime Minister Gilani:

The Pakistani government on Thursday gave the country’s top military official, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, another three years in his post, a move that analysts said would bolster Pakistan’s anti-terrorism fight and cement its role in neighboring Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the extension in a late-night televised address to the nation. “To ensure the success of these [counter-terrorism] operations, it is the need of the hour that the continuity of military leadership should be maintained,” he said.

The impact on our war in Afghanistan is obvious, as both McClatchy and I included it in the lede; Call it “strategic depth” or “cementing its role,” it all adds up to influence on Afghan President Karzai’s government, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qa’eda, and the future of all of these players in Afghanistan.

The short of it is that Kayani’s extension is bad news for us, due to his cozy relationship with militants and terrorist organizations, as well as his undermining of the democratically elected civilian government. But the details are important, especially as they could mean the difference between uncontrolled escalation and our planned military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

For the complete picture, we’ll take a look at what a few experts (read: bloggers) are saying to determine the good, the bad, and the ugly ramifications Kayani’s extension has on the US war in Afghanistan.

For the good news, we have Shuja Nawaz writing for the New Atlanticist [emphasis mine]:

A major advantage that might accrue is that the certainty provided by the new term for the army chief will allow the civilian government to become confident in asserting itself in policy matters, knowing that the army chief will not overtly intervene in its affairs. This may help strengthen political institutions. At the same time, civilians must resist the temptation to turn to the army to lead the battle against militancy (a national endeavor not purely a military one) or to arbitrate differences on the political field.

These three years should also give Kayani time to assess the present Higher Defense Organization of Pakistan and perhaps come up with a more devolved structure for the army and a better system of command and control at the center. One possible scenario may include regional and centralized commands at four-star rank, appointed by the same authority who selects the service chiefs, and a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs with real powers to regulate all the services while acting as the main military advisor of the government. This approach has been taken by the United States and many other modern militaries, so it would hardly be unprecedented. Without having a stake in the chairman’s position in 2013, Kayani may be able to provide a dispassionate plan for the government to decide, well in advance of the next round of promotions in 2013. Any proposal that he presents as a disinterested party will have credibility and will also help override the parochial concerns of the army relative to the other services in Pakistan.

It would be more than good news, it would be great news, if Kayani did work to minimize the role of the military in government, and created a civilian-military relationship similar to the US. But that only works if the first part is true, that Kayani’s interference in politics would cease, allowing the civilian government to become more confident.

That’s where the bad news comes in. This isn’t a case of the Army backing off it’s role in politics, it is, in fact, a craven arrangement with the ruling political party. Arif Rafiq writes at AfPak Channel [emphasis mine]:

Perceptions aside, three more years of Kayani could conceivably provide continuity to both Pakistan’s military and political setup. In recent months, the consensus in Pakistan was that Kayani would receive a two-year extension. Gilani’s choice of three years was a surprise. But not by mere coincidence, Gilani’s government also has three years remaining in its tenure. And so it’s certainly possible that there is a deal between Gilani’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Kayani, perhaps involving foreign guarantors, to let this ship sail for three more years (with Gilani wearing the captain’s hat steering an imaginary wheel and Kayani actually in control). Indeed, Gilani alluded to a possible deal when he said today that Pakistan’s four major “stakeholders” — the president, prime minister, army chief, and Supreme Court chief justice — are in a “secure position” till 2013. […]

And so for Kayani, who has managed to become the darling of many of Pakistan’s nationalists and Islamists, there is some risk involved in continuing for another three years as army chief. If he ties himself too close to the PPP, he — and more importantly, the Pakistani Army — could lose a critical support base and sink along with the current government, unless he maintains a political distance and continues to pursue a semi-nationalist security policy.

Gilani projects a false sense of confidence in the viability of Pakistan’s current political-military setup. This is Pakistan. The Kayani extension provides a short-term ceasefire between the PPP and the army, but it will also likely produce re-alignments among its fractious power brokers. And another head-on clash between any two of them is not far from reality.

Cutting a deal with the ruling elites of the status quo to stay in power is not the same as Kayani becoming a “disinterested party” in the government. That’s not a democratic government, it’s a puppet. In that sense Kayani’s extension could be considered another in Pakistan’s long history of military coups, albeit a completely silent one. This will agitate the opposition parties, namely the PML-N, and the Islamist party wouldn’t be out of line to call for new, early elections, simply as a way of “re-checking” the legitimacy of the PPP-Kayani government.

But that’s not the worst part for the US war in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s internal politics are important to us, but it’s Kayani’s national security and foreign policy that have truly ugly implications for the US. B. Raman writes on his blog [emphasis mine]:

In the counter-insurgency operations against the TTP he has had partial successes in the Swat Valley, South Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai agencies. Under his leadership, the Army has been able to deny the TTP territorial control in these areas, but has not been able to destroy their capability for terrorist strikes and commando-style raids in tribal as well as non-tribal areas. While arresting some leaders of the Afghan Taliban, who were living in Karachi and other non-tribal areas, he has avoided action against the Afghan Taliban leadership operating from the tribal areas.

He has avoided any action against Al Qaeda elements which have taken sanctuary in the non-tribal areas. Under Musharraf, the Army and the ISI were much more active against Al Qaeda in the non-tribal areas than they have been under Kayani. The anger of Al Qaeda and its associates against Musharraf because of the action taken by the Army and the ISI was responsible for the virulent campaign of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri against Musharraf and the Army. They abused Musharraf as apostate, collaborator of the Hindus etc and thrice tried to kill him—once in Karachi and twice in Rawalpindi. Compared to that, there is hardly any Al Qaeda campaign against Kayani. There is a greater threat to Mr.Zardari from Al Qaeda than to Kayani. The Army and the ISI have managed to create an impression in the tribal areas that Mr.Zardari and not Gen.Kayani is responsible for the facilities extended to the US for its Drone (pilotless plane) strikes in the tribal areas. Since Gen.Kayani took over, while many Al Qaeda leaders have been killed in the tribal areas by the Drone strikes, there have been very few arrests of Al Qaeda elements in the non-tribal areas. Al Qaeda feels more secure in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan today than it was under Musharraf.

If you missed that, let me spell it out for you: Kayani’s extension is good for Al-Qa’eda. Yes, that Al-Qa’eda. The terrorist guys.

Then there’s all that other stuff about the Afghan Taliban – Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura in Balochistan, as well as the Haqqani Network, who’re responsible for the vast majority of terrorist and insurgent attacks on our US troops in Afghanistan.

How does the US feel about this? Nawaz:

The United States has studiously avoided taking a public position but conversations with U.S. diplomats and military officials over the past few months indicated their deep interest in the future of General Kayani and a noticeable desire to see him remain at the helm of affairs in Pakistan.


Some of Pakistan’s nationalist and Islamist commentators have also reacted with suspicion toward Kayani’s extension, describing it as a result of Hillary Clinton’s “lobbying”


Kayani is thought of well both by the Pentagon and the PLA leadership

And a flashback to Sue Pleming’s report on Kayani’s visit to Washington:

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear.[…]

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

Damn, we really love this guy. What are we thinking? Whatever it is we like about him – his style, his centered demeanor, his subtle hand in politics – General Kayani is still just another military dictator, another crook in a long line of corrupt, tyrannical, warmongering thugs. He is not our ally, not our friend, and his extension, now a full fledged dictatorship complete with a compliant, ruling political party, is just plain bad news for the United States.

The US must immediately end all military aid to Pakistan, and should pursue sanctions against the ruling elites in the PPP until such time as their government can prove its legitimacy by way of free and fair democratic elections. Barring such extreme measures, the US must engage exclusively with Pakistan’s civilian government, while working toward greater inclusion of opposition parties like the PML-N (who are presently too close to radical Saudi Arabia, and could stand to be moderated with more international influence).

More importantly, the US must end its war in Afghanistan. Not only is not in our interests to fight a civil war in Afghanistan, but it is even less in our interests to have our US troops used as pieces in Kayani’s personal chessboard. Our troops fight and die for our national defense, not for Kayani’s insane militarist objectives against India. Pakistan is catastrophically unstable, and US military leaders are moving to escalate our involvement. Further war in the region will prove to be disastrous for the US.

Reforming our relations with the Pakistani government can be slow and doesn’t have to be as extreme as an immediate freeze. The PPP government can be allowed time and support to again free themselves of Kayani’s control, such as when they tried to grab control of the ISI, Pakistan’s terror-supporting spy agency, in 2008. But we cannot wait to end the war in Afghanistan.

The war puts Americans in danger, it is destroying our economy, and now with Kayani’s empowerment, our objectives in Afghanistan become all the more hopeless and impossible. We have to bring our troops home, get them out of this civil war in Afghanistan and proxy war with Pakistan, and only then can we move on to accomplishing our objectives, be they counter-terrorism, development, or human rights.

We must end this war now, lest one more US soldier die so that General Kayani can “cement his role” in Afghanistan.

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