The US is itching to escalate action against militants inside Pakistan as they feed directly into the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan, a sovereign nuclear state, will not allow direct American intervention beyond US drone attacks, which is already a highly sensitive issue.

“What Washington can do, though, is back efforts to empower its most trusted Pakistani, Kayani, with a new role to command the war against militants inside Pakistan.”

As Bureau Chief Pakistan of Asia Times Online, Saleem Shahzad continues with his observations that the Army Chief Gen Kayani while due to retire on November 27 has already taken steps to keep his team in place.

In an extraordinary development he extended the terms of four lieutenant generals who were due to retire, the most important being the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

(Asia Times Online has reported that before Pakistan started a new round of support for the American war in Afghanistan the army attached several conditions, including setting aside any Indian role and the extension of Pasha’s service. See Pakistan’s military sets Afghan terms February 9, 2010.)

At the same time, Kayani and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, General Tariq Majid, are resisting moves by President Asif Ali Zardari to select his own man to replace Kiani, even though Zardari, as president, is the supreme commander of the armed forces. Zardari’s connections with the military are not strong and he relies on advisors, notably two aviation pilots, Captain Nadeem Yousufzai and Captain Obaid Jatoi.

However, this is not the real issue: Washington does not want to have to deal with a new army chief or even see Kayani’s term extended. Instead, it is backing the idea of elevating Kayani to chairman of thejoint chiefs of staff committee.
At present this is a ceremonial position at the head of the three branches of the military – army, air force and navy. The chairman does not command any authority except during war. It is now envisaged that with a constitutional amendment the chairman (Kayani) would command the three branches, using them as he saw fit in the fight against militants without fear of any one branch objecting.

One reason for empowering the position of chairman of the joint chiefs of the staff committee is a possible serious security downturn in the region that would require the US to use Pakistan’s bases for air sorties, as well as its naval facilities for logistical purposes. After September 11, 2001, the then-chief of air staff, Mushaf Ali Mir, opposed a decision to allowPakistan’s bases to be used by the Americans, but General Pervez Musharraf, then president, forced the decision.

Welfare (salaries and benefits), transfers and postings and promotions in all three forces would also be under the chairman, leaving each of the three branch commanders with the responsibility of conducting operations and training.

There is a consensus in London and Washington that Kayani is the right person to hold this all-powerful new position in the next phase ofthe war and the political leadership, already under pressure from the military chief, would de facto be subservient to the chairman.

Kayani is to date a success story. He has succeeded in negotiating the military’s central role in the “war on terror” and in sidelining Indian’s role in Afghanistan. He has mounted military operations in the tribal areas and in Swat, where he has to a large degree rolled back the militants’ advances.

Under his command, the army has surprised much of the world with the arrests of top Taliban commanders, yet he has allowed the Americans only limited interrogation of important captures such as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Moulvi Abdul Kabeer, Mullah Mir Mohammad and Mullah Abdul Salam – they are in safe houses in Islamabad. These men will be kept as bargaining chips to guaranteePakistan’s strategic interests in Afghanistan now as well as after the US exit.

Kayani has been chosen as the man to make all of this happen. His record is good, but as the attacks in the past few days indicate, the militants have ideas of their own that could derail the best-laid of plans.

Source: Asia Times