Beware the General with the extended contract.
When Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced his government’s decision to extend COAS Gen. Kayani’s term for another three years, he was merely formalizing an arrangement that many had already foreseen months ago. Media reaction to Gen. Kayani’s extension in Pakistan has swayed from grudging acceptance (The News) to complete endorsement (نوائے وقت, ایکسپریس). On the face of it, this is a matter internal to Pakistan, and the Government of India has rightly chosen not to comment on the extension.
Three issues, however, feature prominently in Pakistan’s press on favoring an extended tenure for Gen. Kayani — the war on terrorism, upholding the laws of the nation, and security. It is the third that should be of concern to India; indeed, if history has taught us one thing, it is that secure generals in Rawalpindi have taken decisions that negatively impact India’s internal security. Men in power at GHQ have historically been poor judges of how far they can push the button, either internally or as it relates to India. We need not delve too far back into history to realize that precedents exist. The events leading up to October 1999 serve as a reminder. Nazim Zehra explains:
Musharraf had then clearly stayed away from the political situation as journalists had queried about the ability of the present system’s ability to ‘deliver’ given Pakistan’s major problems. His response to a question related to constitutional change was unambiguous. This relates to constitutional changes, an issue which only the country’s political leadership can address, he had definitively said. He was straight and honest recalling that when he had taken over as the COAS people around me held different views about Nawaz Sharif ‘s relations with the army leadership.
What was striking about the general was how he related to the team around him. Not only did he ensure the presence of at least half a dozen of his key lieutenants through his press encounter, he also let them speak. More so let them interrupt him, correct him on occasions. Only a general, secure about his authority would allow such public display of freedom of expression from his men. Musharraf had come across as a secure general; a team player. [Defence Journal]
Then there was Kargil.
The difference between 1999 and 2010, of course, is that in Parvez Musharraf, you had a general who had no backing from the United States (up until the events of 9/11), while Kayani today enjoys popular support from folks in Arlington, Vir. And the U.S. is notorious for its weakness for scotch-drinking Pakistani generals; even more so when they are graduates of army colleges in the U.S. Gen. Kayani is described in the U.S. as a “soft-spoken intellectual” and “apolitical.” As if this “soft-spokenness” is a virtuous quality.
Yet, of all the 14 chiefs of army staff to have served Pakistan, only one man holds the distinction of having commanded both Pakistan’s premiere intelligence agency, the ISI, and the Pakistani army. That man is Gen. Kayani. That Gen. Kayani played an integral part in ensuring that talks between S.M. Krishna and his counterpart in Pakistan failed should be no surprise. What Gen. Kayani does or doesn’t do within the confines of Pakistan’s political environment is a matter entirely internal to Pakistan.
However, “secure” Pakistani generals have displayed a knack for misunderstanding their relative power within the Pakistani establishment and misconstruing their ability to force India’s hand on “unresolved issues.” And this is something that India needs to be wary of.