Army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has been given another full-term (3 years) extension of service. Instead of retiring in November this year, he will now hopefully walk into sunset in November 2013 – almost right after the next elections are held.

Gen. Kayani had been averse to accepting any tenure extension, published reports have said. However, former COAS Gen (R) Waheed Kakar was said to have played an important role in convincing him to accept the extension in the larger national interest and that of the armed forces institution in particular.

Some observers feel the range of forces behind Kayani’s incumbency is as vast as the vested interests of war on terror and in the “re-making of Pakistan” as a “progressive, liberal, secularist society.”

The announcement of Kayani’s extension was made by none other than Prime Minister Gilani himself. Gilani’s public announcement was one of the shortest on TV in Pakistan’s history. In his two-and-a-half-minute burp, Gilani said that owing to the ongoing military operations against militants, it was important to maintain continuity in the military leadership.

The army chief will now become the first to enjoy the longest ever tenure, notwithstanding those who extended their own tenures in the like of Gen Ayub, Gen Zia, Gen Musharraf.

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According to some of these observers, the move heralds the potential of long-term consequences on the country’s political and military landscape including present and future civil-military relationship. Two dynamics are inter-playing: The civil-military relations as envisaged in the Kerry-Lugar Bill and the one as planned by the establishment itself for the long haul.

According to reports, the decision was earlier planned to be announced by July 18. However, it was deferred till the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A poker-faced Clinton said in Islamabad last week that the United States did not and would not comment on Pakistan’s internal matter, when asked about Kayani’s extension. But Pakistan watchers smiled at that. Hillary did however stress that the United States would like democratic setup to continue!

Kayani positioned himself in the overall war against terror’s dispensation with his entry, thanks to Gen Musharraf, as DG ISI. His more than cursory involvement in Musharraf team’s negotiations with Benazir Bhutto, of which he was an integral part, is well known.

When Musharraf in November 2007 gave up his army chief role, he pinned that badge on Kayani. Elections were thereafter held making PPP win enough seats to form a secular government in the center. While Bhutto met untimely death, Musharraf was forced to quit – and in a twist of fate, Zardari and Kayani became new power players representing either side of the divide – or shall we say – from the same side in the great game!

Once a military assistant to the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto as well as a trusted protege of her rival Musharraf, Kayani has been recognised as a chameleon in surviving Pakistan’s treacherous political waters, AFP reported.

Today, a more relaxed and cheerful Gilani praised Kayani for his “commitment to democracy”, recalling that the military chief had termed “democracy inevitable” for peace and development in Pakistan. Read “progressive, liberal, secular forces” in place of “democracy”. The PM also quipped that all four major power balls – the army chief, the PM (himself), the President and the Chef Justice will remain in their seat until 2013!

Kayani has thus come out in the open as the key force in the power structure. He was then and is now, and will remain so in future also, until a mixed bag of nationalistic-secularist-progressive force emerges in the country. Such an ideological boundary for Pakistan may not make all the stake-holders happy though; but then in every successful negotiations – one party is always the grim reaper. Who is or who are the grim reapers – only time can tell. All that can be conjectured right now is that no matter who took the insurance from whom – the underwriter is the same!