By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani took the baton from Gen Musharraf on November 29, 2007. As a result of three years extension given to him by the PPP government in November 2010, his second stint will expire on November 29, 2013. During his six years tenure he came across formidable challenges. Having served as GOC 12 Division, DGMO, Commander 10 Corps and DG ISI, he was well attuned to geo-political and operational environments and challenges faced by Pakistan and the Army. War on terror was in its sixth year and things were becoming increasingly difficult for the security forces to contain the rising militancy. Several untoward incidents had occurred which had impacted the morale and image of the Army. At the outset he called back all Army officers employed in civilian departments to put to rest the unwanted cribbing by certain quarters that the Army was monopolizing all organizations in Pakistan. The next thing he did was to forbid Army and its affiliated institutions like Military Intelligence, Rangers and Anti-Narcotics Force from meddling in elections and in political affairs as had happened in 2002 elections and afterwards.
He then made a strategic change in the training system of Army units by changing the normal training cycles imparting conventional training to low intensity conflict training so as to train the soldiers to confront the challenges of guerrilla war. Knowing that no amount of training and sermons would make a real change, he extended a highly loaded welfare package to the lower ranks in order to raise their morale, prestige and honor. His initiative was in contrast to the welfare measures of previous Army chiefs that were mostly confined to the officers only. 2008 was announced as the ‘Year of Soldiers’. By taking care of the uniform, administration, pay scale, pension, security and housing of soldiers, Kayani instilled new life into them and by the time they were pushed into the inferno of Swat they were fully charged up. His next move was to promote only those officers to senior ranks who excelled in leadership qualities, were professionally sound, bold and strong in character and enjoyed clean reputation. He delayed the promotion board scheduled in January 2008 by one year to be able to personally judge the ones in the race. He made sure that the units sent to the combat zone were fully trained, acclimatized and ably led. Realizing that Musharraf and Lt Gen Mahmood were not in good books of PAF senior officers, Kayani took extra pains to forge special ties with PAF and ACM Rao became his close friend.
Setting aside the poor tradition set by his predecessor, he undertook frequent visits to forward areas particularly where things were hot. He tasked DG ISI Gen Shuja Pasha and DG MI to recover the lost ground in FATA and strengthen the first line of defence that had been sufficiently weakened during the reign of Musharraf because of full liberty of action given to CIA and FBI. Efforts to dismantle CIA network were redoubled in the aftermath of Raymond Davis incident in January 2011. Kayani didn’t lose sight of the importance of media and posted well reputed Maj Gen Salim Bajwa and professional officers to ISPR who are working hard to confront the media challenges. Retired senior officers selected as heads of Army welfare institutions were chosen with care to ensure optimum commercial results.
Areas recaptured from the militants are being rebuilt and people rehabilitated systematically. Army has put in sustained efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people of Swat, FATA and Balochistan and have achieved pleasing results. These efforts have jeopardized the nefarious designs of enemies of Pakistan. Not only Kayani and his team have tackled the internal threats astutely, massive external threats posed by six intelligence agencies and belligerence of India and Afghanistan have been taken care of spiritedly. Series of three-service integrated Azm-e-Nau exercises together with successful test firing of variety of missiles are strong reminders to India that it’s much touted Cold Start doctrine if executed would prove highly costly.
On the political front, the first challenge he faced was in August 2008 when PM Yusaf Raza Gilani issued an executive order placing the ISI under Ministry of Interior headed by infamous Rahman Malik reputed to be US and UK choice man. This move was made in response to long held demand of the US and India to bridle ISI. Gilani had been told to complete this act before embarking upon his journey to Washington to meet President Obama. Kayani put his foot down and convinced Gilani to take back his decision. The next difficult situation emerged in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008. Both Zardari and Gilani buckled under fuming Indian pressure and consented to dispatch DG ISI Lt Gen Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to give first hand explanation that the ISI was not involved in the episode. Kayani once again intervened and made sure that the flawed decision was reversed.
When the Army was asked in end April 2009 to clear Swat of Fazlullah led militants and restore writ of the State after Fazlullah backtracked from the peace agreement signed in February 2009, Kayani devised a brilliant offensive plan and within a month freed Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Malakand and Bajaur from the clutches of militants. While holding the captured areas firmly, the Army provided security to the locals. All out efforts were made to rehabilitate 1.7 displaced persons and to rebuild destroyed houses, schools, roads, culverts and bridges. Rehabilitation centres were established to cure teenagers brainwashed to become suicide bombers. Hustle and bustle and glamour of Swat was restored and business activities and tourism in the picturesque town recommenced. The people of Swat whose minds had been poisoned against the Army now respect and love the soldiers and don’t want them to abandon Swat.
The creator and commander of TTP, Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone in August 2009. He was replaced by Hakimullah Mehsud. In order to avenge the death of Baitullah, series of attacks were launched in October 2009 including an attack on GHQ on October 10, 2009. Gen Kayani was sitting in his office when ten militants stormed one of the gates of GHQ and some managed to slip inside. Within 18 hours all the militants were either killed or arrested but the shocking incident spurred Kayani to take the battle into the heartland of TTP in South Waziristan (SW). A three-pronged offensive was conceived and launched on October 17, 2009. All the prongs headed towards the nerve centre resting within the critical triangle of Srarogha-Ladha-Makin within SW inhabited by Mehsuds. The myth that SW had never been overwhelmed by foreign forces was broken by the Pak Army.
Like in Swat where the militants armory was filled to the brim by foreign agencies based in Kabul, TTP in SW had also been furnished sophisticated weapons and equipment in huge quantity. Despite the advantage of fighting guerrilla war on home ground, the militants were uprooted in a month’s time and order was restored. These major operations broke the back of TTP and it remained in disarray for next one year. Hard hitting operations were also launched in Mehmand, Kurram and Orakzai Agencies in 2010. Fazlullah, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad commanding TTP Bajaur chapter and Omar Khalid Khurasani heading TTP Mehmand chapter along with their men slipped into neighboring Kunar and Nuristan. Hakimullah Mehsud took refuge in Paktika, while the militants fled to neighboring tribal agencies. After failing to convert upper Orakzai Agency into main base for the TTP, Hakimullah regrouped TTP with the help of his patrons in Kabul and converted Miranshah in North Waziristan (NW) into main base of TTP. Knowing that he was a marked man, he kept changing his abodes and never spent more than six hours at one place.
While Fazlullah and Khurasani are still based in Kunar and are involved in cross border terrorism in Bajaur, Mehmand, Dir and Chitral, Faqir is in Kabul. Fazlullah and Khurasani are fully supported by Afghan intelligence and RAW. Western front is purposely kept heated up by Afghanistan to force Pakistan to mount an operation in NW, declared as the safe haven of anti-US militants led by Haqqani network. The US stealth raid in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011 followed by attack on Salala border post in Mehmand Agency on November 26, 2011, in which 24 soldiers died was a sequel to Kayani’s refusal to pull out additional troops from eastern border and to further stretch out particularly after he had to deploy additional regular troops in Mehmand and Bajaur agencies for the first time in September 2011 to counter the threat from across the western border.
Kayani was instrumental in convincing PM Gilani to close down Shamsi airbase, block NATO supply lines, repatriate US-UK military trainers, cancel all military related meetings, visits and courses, stay out of Bonn conference, ask for an unconditional apology and an assurance that such a blatant act would not be repeated. It was under such adverse circumstances that Kayani was given three year extension. Kayani reluctantly accepted extension, but he made sure that the government agreed to promote and post the senior most Lt Gen serving as his CGS, Gen Shameem Wyne as CJSC. In 2013, the TTP in alliance with Lashkar-e-Islam opened another formidable front in Tirah where the Army took several months to clear the position in June.
Besides internal and external threats, Gen Kayani had to put up with a highly corrupt coalition government whose loyalty to the State was often questioned. While PPP and MQM was NRO cleansed, ANP leader Azam Hoti has recently disclosed that ANP’s leader Asfandyar Wali had accepted bribe from the US in June 2008 to toe its line. MQM leader Altaf Hussain had written a letter to British PM Tony Blair in September 2001 that his party’s services were at his disposal. Hussain Haqqani, ambassador to USA was involved in memo scandal and it is assumed that he couldn’t have sent the anti-Pakistan memo to Admiral Mullen without the blessing of top leadership of PPP. On one hand the soldiers fought the anti-State militants resolutely and over 5000 sacrificed their lives to safeguard the integrity of the motherland, on the other hand the politicians and bureaucrats kept filling their coffers with ill-gotten wealth and chipped the foundations of the country.
To make matters worse for the Army, foreign media in league with segment of Pakistani media left no stone unturned to soil the image of the Army and to discredit Kayani. Some said as to why he accepted extension in service; others coaxed and provoked him to throw out the gang of thieves destroying the country and capture power to save the country from drowning. Extensive pressure was built on him from mid 2012 onwards and when he refused to oblige them despite several lucrative opportunities coming his way, he was belittled for being a sissy. He remained committed to his pledge of supporting democracy even when PM Gilani sacked Secretary Defence Lt Gen Lodhi and passed strong remarks against the Army in reaction to affidavits submitted by Kayani and Pasha concerning memo scandal. The Army extended full support in holding elections in May 2013 and in smooth transition of power for the first time. Kayani has a hand in enabling the PPP government to complete its full tenure.
Hoping that third-time elected Nawaz would live up to his reputation of locking horns with Army chiefs, when nothing of the sort happened, stories were spread that Kayani was seeking yet another extension or wanted to become CJDS with extended powers. In the wake of Kayani’s opinion that the biggest threat to integrity of Pakistan was internal threat, when Nawaz started lobbying for dialogue with militants and APC gave a unanimous decision to hold talks unconditionally, Kayani backed the peace process. Chirping tongues stopped cheeping only when Kayani gave a categorical statement last month that he would retire at the appointed date. Bitten many times by the generals, Nawaz Sharif realizes that Kayani is time-tested and dependable. He is seriously thinking how to make good use of Kayani’s services.
Amidst ongoing controversy whether Hakimullah Mehsud killed by a drone on October 31 was a martyr or otherwise, JI leader Munawar Hassan further heated up the political temperature by giving an irrational and unethical statement on November 10th that Hakimullah Mehsud and militants who were killed by drones or by security forces were all martyrs and soldiers who had died in combat were not Shuhuda. His utterance has hurt Kayani, all ranks of Army and next of kin of Shuhuda. An unconditional apology has rightly been sought by the Army from him. Hassan’s effort to please the TTP should not be at the cost of Army which has stood like a rock between the ruthless killers and people of Pakistan and has rendered huge sacrifices for the defence of the motherland. Earlier he renders an apology or corrects himself better will it be for him and his party since overwhelming majority has denounced his unpalatable statement.
General Kayani would be well remembered for his cool and cigarettes for he is a chain smoker. His farewell to arms has come at a very crucial time in Pakistan’s history.