Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.......


Those who know him say he is a brooder. But those who know him well will tell you that's just one of the layers to the deeply complicated and thinking mind of Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The bluster that marked Musharraf has been dumped for quiet gravitas as the man from Rawalpindi goes about turning friends like the US and Britain into closer allies and outmanoeuvering not-so-friendly neighbours like India and Afghanistan at international fora. In a country brought to its knees by terror, corruption and an inept political system, the former ISI chief is putting up a masterly show as he calls the shots.

Sitting with foreign minister S M Krishna this February, US defence secretary Robert Gates said he was going to Pakistan the next day. So who was he going to meet? Oh, a number of people, said Gates, but his most important conversation would be with Pakistan army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. "Why not Zardari?" asked Krishna, referring to the Pakistan president. "Because Kayani is the most important man out there," Gates said matter-of-factly . And Gates should know - in Washington, he's often described as the most powerful defence secretary Pentagon has had in a long while.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, this low-profile general has emerged from the shadows. The obvious ineptitude of the Pakistan political establishment seems to have finally helped burnish the credentials of the Pakistan Army whose reputation was in tatters in the final days of the last military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. And with its return has emerged its boss Kayani. Compared to Zardari's gang that just can't shoot straight, many in Pakistan seem to view the Army chief as a better bargain - although it's debatable that they'll want a return to military rule.

As boss of Pakistan's infamous spy agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), Kayani had a reputation for being slightly nervous. It would now appear that he was being circumspect rather than nervous. As the civil government got its knickers in a twist every so often, the general quietly plotted the return of the military to its position of pre-eminence in Pakistan society.

He has since quietly started calling the shots. Remember how Zardari promised to send the ISI chief Shuja Pasha to India after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and how Kayani vetoed him? That was just the beginning of his new assertiveness.

But who is this man really? Is he a bumbling military brass in the mould of Yahya Khan, who lost East Pakistan because of his ham-handed ways, or is he a modern-day version of the suave Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military dictator who introduced the army to the intoxication of political power? Or is Kayani just a product of circumstances, the man who is willy-nilly filling up the political vacuum created by the messy management of Zardari & Co?

Details about the 57-year-old Kayani are somewhat sketchy. He doesn't have the kind of privileged background that most Pakistan military brass does. His father, Lehrasab, was a naib subedar in the army - in other words, a non-commissioned officer. Born in Rawalpindi in Punjab, Kayani came up the hard way after being commissioned in 1971, the year of the Bangladesh War.

Those who have seen him up close say Kayani is the brooding type. He was given to long, solitary walks until November 2007, when Gen Musharraf named him the army chief - thereafter, it was no longer possible for him to remain unattended. Kayani is a chain smoker - he reportedly lights up every 15 minutes - and is given to long drags on his cigarette as he engages in deep listening during briefings by his trusted commanders. It's said he interrupts only to seek either a clarification or elucidation of a point.

Kayani's slightly unnerving silence contrasts strongly with Musharraf's volubility. But it would be stupid to infer from this that he has little to say. They say Kayani has a lot more going on in his head. He is also a Pakistan army "traditionalist" which means his worldview is India-centric . The eastern neighbour, India, is seen by the army as enemy No1, and policies and responses flow from that basic understanding.

A strategically shrewd army chief, Kayani doesn't count India among Pakistan's allies - something that is likely to make him appear in New Delhi to be more dangerous than someone like Musharraf. In any case, since it's Kayani who holds the reins, New Delhi would do well to sit up and take notice of this man.

It needs to know whether Kayani's anti-India stance is a strategic move to bind together the army at a time when political parties in Pakistan are slipping fast into an inchoate body of disparate noises, and when the people see the solidity of the army as a source of reassurance. Or is it genetically coded - that come what may, he will be hostile towards India.

Says a top Indian official, "On a scale of 1 to 10 for anti-India sentiment, if Musharraf was at 5, Kayani is at 8." "And as he is seen increasingly to be in control, it's bad news for us."

Kayani started out as an apolitical army chief. Now as he is in the driving seat in Pakistan, he is showing political sense. The way he has latched on to the water issue between India and Pakistan to drum up paranoia about India "starving" Pakistan of water shows he knows how to press the emotive buttons. When India offered foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, Islamabad took its time to respond, allegedly because Kayani hadn't given his nod; he wanted a composite dialogue that would include Kashmir, and not just terror. And it was Kayani who gave directions to Pakistan's foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, when he came to New Delhi to meet Nirupama Rao.

Significantly, the day before, Kayani told the defence committee of the National Assembly that the army under him would remain "India-centric" . "India has the capability, intentions can change overnight," he told legislators.

G Parthasarathy, who was high commissioner to Islamabad, says, "Gen Kayani represents an institutional hostility towards India because promoting it enables the army to dominate Pakistan without responsibility. Given the fact that he is the de facto ruler of Pakistan, India should be prepared for more covert and overt hostility directed at it from Pakistani soil."

The quiet rise of Kayani hasn't gone unnoticed in capitals around the world. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton spends more time with Kayani than with the civvies. Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who has had a testy relationship with the Pakistani army, is mending fences with it. Pakistan's strategic outreach is being managed by Kayani: He made a much talked about power-point presentation at the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) headquarters in Brussels on how he could help the West get out of Afghanistan; he talked turkey with the Turks on keeping control of a key conference in Istanbul on Afghanistan's future; and he's assumed the role of the point person on 'reconciliation' with Taliban.

This week, Kayani will be the pre-eminent member of the Pakistan delegation at a strategic dialogue with Washington where demand No.1 will be a nuclear deal like the one signed with India, apart from agreements on more mundane matters like trade and agriculture. In preparation for the talks, Kayani presided over a meeting of government secretaries on Tuesday, the first time that top-level bureaucrats have been called to army headquarters in a civilian regime.

It was not always so, even as recently as in 2009. Through most of last year, Pakistan, and its army, were on the back foot. Terrorists in Swat and other parts of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) were on the rampage and inching towards Islamabad, setting off alarm bells the world over. To make matters worse, there was talk of the army playing fast and loose with the Americans as well as with the Taliban. The US media was awash with CIA leaks on how Kayani had described Afghan Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani as a 'strategic asset'.

There was little trust between the two sides.

Cut to January 2010, and the scenario had changed dramatically. Pakistan had 'fixed' the trust problem with the Americans. In July 2008, when Kayani and ISI chief Shuja Pasha were 'summoned' by General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, to be scolded about Islamabad's misdemeanors, especially the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, it was a low point for a country which had tomtommed its "shared anxieties'' with America.

By the end of 2009, Kayani was taking the US joint chief of staff chairman Mike Mullen and US commander in Afghanistan Stanley Mc-Crystal on helicopter rides in Swat and Waziristan to show progress in his battle against the Taliban. Pakistan had effectively re-established itself in the West as a part of the solution, even as it continued to be a part of the problem.

Kayani's message to the NATO brass in January, made adroitly yet forcefully through a 62-slide presentation, was disarmingly simple: Pakistan had a strategic future in Afghanistan well beyond the US presence and should not be taken lightly. This meant the government in Kabul had to be mindful of Pakistani interests; and India had to be out of Afghanistan, or at the very least, needed to greatly reduce its presence.

Kayani scored another big victory at the January 28 London conference on the future of Afghanistan. The idea promoted by the British and backed by the US, that Pakistan would be the lead player in the Taliban 'reconciliation' process, was met with enthusiastic response. The army chief came out smelling of roses, confident in his belief that he had successfully outmanoeuvered India even as New Delhi fumbled in its opposition to the Taliban being accommodated.

This was quite a contrast to Musharraf's last days, when the army stumbled from one political miscalculation to another and ended up with the disastrous storming of Islamabad's Lal Masjid where radical imams were threatening the state. Meanwhile, the Tehreek-e-Taliban was growing in strength and firepower with a string of terror attacks throughout Pakistan, leading up to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Worryingly for the hawks, Musharraf had also found a common language with Manmohan Singh and back-channel talks with India hinted at some sort of non-territorial adjustment in Kashmir. His 'out-of-the-box' proposals on Kashmir as well as 'tactical restraint' on the Kashmir jihad between 2004 and 2007 undermined the traditional mindset. As both Siachen and Sir Creek remained unresolved, there rose many voices within the Pakistan military establishment questioning the wisdom of abandoning the old position of bleeding India.

Enter Kayani, with a 18-handicap in golf and a Plan. Admiral Mullen recently gushed in Time magazine: "Gen Kayani commands an army with troops fighting in what President Barack Obama has rightly called the 'most dangerous place in the world.' He's lost more than 1,000 soldiers in that fight. He knows the stakes. He's got a plan."

Convinced of the centrality of the army as the bulwark of the Pakistan state, Kayani was bringing back to it its robbed glory and quintessential values. He has figured that the only way to regain influence for Pakistan would be to somehow make the Taliban a part of the power structure in Kabul and help the US pack its bags. That would force India to leave Afghanistan and help Pakistan regain control of the region.

Until that happens, Kayani knows the India bogey has to be kept alive and leveraged against Pakistan's efforts at taming the Taliban. Against the US's better judgment, but impelled by recession and public opinion, Washington is giving the Kayani worldview more than a nod and a wink. Washington's approach to Islamabad is old-fashioned bribery: sophisticated military toys are winging their way to Pakistan as 'incentive' to fight the Taliban.

It knows full well that these weapons will actually be directed against India. As an Indian official explained, "Kayani is pegging the modernisation of the Pak army on US money." By end-2010 , Pakistan will get an additional $3.4 billion in military aid from the US, bringing the total up to almost $12 billion since 2003.

Kayani cut his teeth in the army during the Bangladesh war. Thirty years later as director-general military operations (DGMO), he directed the 10-month stand-off with the Indian army. He earned his spurs with Musharraf when he conducted, with efficiency and confidentiality, the investigation into the assassination bids on Musharraf in 2003. Musharraf has himself reminisced that until Kayani took over, the investigation was a mess. It led to his appointment as DG-ISI in 2004.

No comments:

Post a Comment