Pakistan’s top military commander, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will retire on November 29 after six years as chief of the country’s most powerful institution. The army, and its relationship with Pakistan’s civilian government, has changed greatly during his tenure.
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, seen as the second most powerful man in Pakistan, has headed the military since November 2007. The army chief is largely credited with halting the pattern of military intervention in politics and allowing democracy to develop.
However, author and analyst Ahmed Rashid points out that extremism and terrorism also flourished under his watch, even if the general did seem to break a pattern of intervention.
“I think there is no doubt that the fact that the army has not intervened and has allowed, if you like, given the expression, allowed two civilian governments to follow one another is quite unique for Pakistan, and some of that credit would go to Kayani,” said Rashid.
General Kayani has wielded power since becoming the head of the country’s powerful intelligence services in 2004. Rashid said that since then, terrorism has continued to plague the country.
“If we take that whole period from 2004 to 2013, what we see is a massive escalation and deterioration in the state of Pakistan, and the attacks by terrorist groups from extremist groups," said Rashid.
There are those within the military who believe that General Kayani too often succumbed to the civilian leadership’s apparent distaste for military operations against militants.
Retired Brigadier Shaukat Qadir thinks whoever takes Kayani’s place will have to face that challenge.
“For those who understand the nuances, diplomacy cannot work without the threat at least of the use [of] force. They are tied together with an umbilical cord. So, he has to position himself in such a way as he does pose a threat, a palpable threat, even if he is not doing anything at that point in time,” pointed out Qadir.
As army chief, Kayani has also overseen a large portion of the country’s national security policy and foreign policy. With the withdrawal of international forces from neighboring Afghanistan, and Pakistan's desire to see a pro-Islamabad government in place in Kabul, Kayani is not likely to want to completely step out of the picture, according to military analyst Ayeesha Siddiqa.
“I think he probably wants to remain in the decision making to at least see the changes, oversee the changes made post 2014, or before 2014, now which side is he playing, God knows - does he really want to finish off the militant forces? I have my doubts," said Siddiqa.
A common belief is, whoever takes Kayani's place, the military-civilian balance will likely continue. However, so will other institutional policies, such as using militants as proxy forces, portraying India as the enemy and vying for influence in Afghanistan.