COAS General Ashfaq Kayani has announced his intention to call it a day on 29th November. The decision came amidst intense media speculation that he might get a year’s extension, or go “upstairs” to a revamped Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff office, or even as Ambassador to Washington DC as reported by the reputable Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, the PMLN government’s decision to keep the CJCSC and Washington slots pending served to fuel such rumours. On an earlier occasion, General Kayani had said that he would retire as army chief on due date. Therefore the government should have announced an Ambassador to Washington when the cabinet was unveiled and nominated successors to General Kayani and CJCSC General Shamim Wynne last month.
General Kayani has presided, directly and indirectly, over the fate of Pakistan for over a decade. As DG-Military Ops, DG-ISI, Vice COAS and COAS (for six years), he was described by Forbes Magazine in 2012 as the “28th most powerful person in the world”. The record shows that he was either at the elbow of General Pervez Musharraf when the latter took some far-reaching decisions or was directly responsible for taking them himself as COAS. Consider his track record.
As DGMO in 2004, General Kayani backed General Musharraf’s decision to close the jihadi tap across the LoC and open up a back-channel with India to negotiate a long-term “out-of-the-box solution” for Kashmir. If that initiative had not withered on the vine because of acute political instability in Pakistan in 2007-08, it would have changed the landscape of South Asia. Yet the Lal Masjid in Islamabad was fortified for years by terrorists right under Gen Kayani’s nose as DG-ISI and he was remarkably ineffective when it exploded, plunging the Musharraf regime into disarray, instability and eventual loss of power. Indeed, the Pakistani-terrorist attack on Mumbai was planned on his watch as DGISI and actually happened when he was COAS, putting paid to the Kashmir plan for the last five years. The recent heating up of the LoC that scotched Nawaz Sharif’s plans to restart the back channel with India can also be laid at his door.
General Kayani as DG-ISI also helped negotiate the return of Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan in 2007-08 on the basis of an NRO so that a transition to representative democracy could take place. If Ms Bhutto had become prime minister, Pakistan would not have been in such dire straits today. Yet as DG-ISI he was also negligent, at best, and complicit, at worst, when the terrorist attacks on Ms Bhutto took place. It is a matter of fact, too, that as COAS he didn’t much cooperate with any of the fact-finding commissions and investigations to uncover the truth about her assassins.
General Kayani’s relationship with the Zardari regime remained problematic from Day One. His open defiance of the pro-democracy clauses in the Kerry-Lugar legislation sent the PPP government into a spin. The promotion, appointment and service-extension of General Ahmad Shuja Pasha as DG-ISI led to policies that alienated Pakistan from the United States and the elected PPP government from the military. The Raymond Davis affair was grossly mismanaged: first, public protest was whipped up against the government’s bid to let Davis off the hook; then, after the Americans read out the riot act to Generals Kayani and Pasha, Davis was whisked out of the country, leaving the government red-faced before an angry public and media. Worse, the government was seriously destabilized when Memogate was launched, compelling Ambassador Hussain Haqqani to resign, President Zardari to fall ill and flee to Dubai and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to accuse the ISI of being “a state within the state”. Worst, the outrageous US Navy Seal raid on a compound in the backyard of the military establishment in Abbotabad on May 2, 2011, destroyed the credibility of the ruling generals like never before.
General Kayani’s reputation as a premier “thinking” general cannot be denied. By the same token, however, he must bear the burden of his misguided strategic theories that have brought Pakistan to an “existential” crisis (his own words) in the last five years. The “good Afghan Taliban, bad Pakistani Taliban” theory that has underpinned the army’s Af-Pak strategy has come a cropper because all forms and shades of Taliban and Al-Qaeda are one criminal network and the quest for a “stable and Pakistan-friendly” Afghanistan has foundered on the rock of big power dynamics.
It has been argued that General Kayani supported the cause of democracy by not imposing martial law when the chips were down for the PPP government. But the truth is that a fiercely independent media, aggressive judiciary and popular PMLN would have revolted against any martial law. The international community would not have supported it. And General Kayani’s own rank and file would have frowned upon it.
Under the circumstances, we hope the next COAS will change course and help the elected civilian leaders make national security policy to salvage our country.