In Musharraf’s Shadow, a New Hope for Pakistan Rises
By DAVID ROHDE and CARLOTTA GALL
Published: January 7, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Over the last several months, a little-known, enigmatic Pakistani general has quietly raised hopes among American officials that he could emerge as a new force for stability in Pakistan, according to current and former government officials. But it remains too early to determine whether he can play a decisive role in the country.
In late November, the general, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, took command of Pakistan’s army when the country’s longtime military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, resigned as army chief and became a civilian president. At that time, General Kayani, a protégé of Mr. Musharraf’s, became one of Pakistan’s most powerful officials.
The Pakistani Army has dominated the country for decades and the army chief wields enormous influence. Over time, as General Kayani gains firmer control of the army, he is likely to become even more powerful than Mr. Musharraf himself.
“Gradually, General Kayani will be the boss,” said Talat Masood, a Pakistani political analyst and retired general. “The real control of the army will be with Kayani.”
But within weeks, General Kayani’s loyalties — and skills — are likely to come under intense strain. The two civilian political parties that oppose Mr. Musharraf are vowing to conduct nationwide street protests if Mr. Musharraf’s party wins delayed parliamentary elections now scheduled for Feb. 18.
The parties already accuse Mr. Musharraf — who is widely unpopular according to public opinion polls — of fixing the elections. If demonstrations erupt, General Kayani will have to decide whether to suppress them. What he decides will determine who rules Pakistan, according to Pakistani and American analysts. The decision also could affect whether the country descends into even deeper turmoil.
They predict that General Kayani will remain loyal to Mr. Musharraf to a certain extent. But they say he will not back Mr. Musharraf if his actions are viewed as damaging the army.
“He’s loyal to Musharraf to the point where Musharraf is a liability and no longer an asset to the corporate body of the Pakistani military,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. and White House official and a Pakistan expert.
As he has ascended, General Kayani has impressed American military and intelligence officials as a professional, pro-Western moderate with few political ambitions. But the elevation to army chief has been known to change Pakistani officers.
Mr. Musharraf was seen as uninterested in politics when he became army chief in 1998. A year later, he orchestrated a coup and began his eight-year rule.
General Kayani has become an increasingly important figure to the Bush administration as Pakistan’s instability grows and Mr. Musharraf faces intensifying political problems, according to American and Pakistani analysts.
Mr. Musharraf’s declaration of de facto martial law in November was widely seen in Pakistan as an effort by him to crush his civilian opponents and cling to power.
At the same time, many Pakistanis blame Mr. Musharraf for failing to prevent the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last month. They contend that the government did not provide adequate security.
General Kayani’s personal views are difficult to discern. Since taking command of the army, he has continued his practice of never granting interviews.
In one of his first acts as army chief, he declared 2008 the “year of the soldier,” an attempt to improve the weakening morale of the Pakistani Army, a gesture that was praised by American military officials. The army has struggled in combating militants, with more than 1,000 soldiers and police officers killed since 2001. Last summer, several hundred soldiers surrendered to militants, causing intense concern among Pakistani military officials.
The battle against insurgents continues to be intractable. A security official said Monday that suspected Islamic militants killed eight tribal leaders involved in efforts to broker a cease-fire between security forces and insurgents in northwestern Pakistan, The Associated Press reported. The men were shot in separate attacks late Sunday and early Monday in South Waziristan, a mountainous region close to Afghanistan where militants allied with Al Qaeda and the Taliban operate, the official said.
General Kayani’s early political moves as commander included two small gestures that were interpreted as attempts to ease tensions between the government and civilian opposition parties. After the assassination of Ms. Bhutto on Dec. 27, he sent soldiers to place a wreath on her grave and privately met with her husband.
On Thursday, General Kayani led the first meeting of Pakistan’s corps commanders — the dozen generals who dominate the military. It was the first time in eight years that Mr. Musharraf had not attended. During the meeting, the general stressed unity.
It is the harmonization of sociopolitical, administrative and military strategies that will usher an environment of peace and stability in the long term,” the state-run news media quoted him as saying. “Ultimately, it is the will of the people and their support that is decisive.”
The son of a junior officer in the Pakistani Army, he is from Jhelum, an arid region in Punjab Province known for producing Pakistani generals. Raised in a middle-class military family, he attended military schools and is seen as loyal to the army as an institution above all else.
His appointment was popular among army officers, some of whom believe the Pakistani army should withdraw from politics, as it has intermittently in the past.
His career has included repeated military education in the United States. He received training in Fort Benning, Ga., and graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He also took an executive studies course at the Asia-Pacific Center of Security Studies in Hawaii in the late 1990s.
In an army deeply enmeshed in Pakistani politics, he has declined to ally himself with any political groups, according to retired Pakistani military officials. As a junior officer, he briefly served as a military aide to Ms. Bhutto during her first term as prime minister in the late 1980s, but has stayed away from politicians since then.
“Kayani throughout his career has shown little in the way of political inclination,” said a senior American military official who has worked extensively with him but did not wish to be identified because of the sensitivities of Pakistani politics. “He is a humble man who has shown a decided focus on the soldier.”
When he was appointed deputy army chief last fall, his first move was to visit the front lines in the tribal areas. Spending the Muslim holiday Id al-Fitr with soldiers prompted American military officials to praise him as a “soldier’s soldier.”
The senior American military official predicted that the Pakistani Army would perform better under General Kayani than Mr. Musharraf, who was often distracted by politics while serving as both president and army chief.
But any progress General Kayani achieves militarily could be undermined by continuing political turmoil, according to Pakistani analysts. To end that instability, he might have to strike a “grand bargain” with Pakistan’s civilian political parties that would end the army’s dominance.
“If Kayani, in a way, tries to promote democracy and becomes the protector of democracy,” said Mr. Masood, the Pakistani political analyst and retired general, “then I think Pakistan has a chance.”
Mr. Masood and other analysts said General Kayani would be more able to strike such a bargain than Mr. Musharraf, who is distrusted by the country’s political parties. But to do so he and civilian leaders would have to compromise and share power, something that has happened rarely in Pakistan's 60-year history.