By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

In the last few months issue of extension of Gen Kayani had become one of the hot topics since he was due to retire on 29 November 2010. While there was a general consensus that Kayani deserved an extension because of his outstanding performance in war on terror and his apolitical conduct, there were some who were skeptical whether President Zardari would give him extension. When Lt Gen Shuja Pasha got one-year extension last October, it was opined that Kayani too would get it. When confused Defence Minister put a spanner by stating that neither Kayani had asked for extension nor there were any plans to extend his tenure, PM Gilani promptly did the damage control by saying that Mukhtar’s statement to the media was uncalled for.

The media then started making speculations whether Kayani would get one-year or two-year extension in his present appointment or he will be elevated as Chief of Defence Staff and given another term of three to four years. There were some who pinned hopes on him that he might oust the unpopular PPP regime and cleanse the stables of the 2 ½ year muck. They expectantly looked towards besieged Chief Justice to call for Army’s help under Article 191 of the constitution. Impatient lot after waiting for sometime got frustrated and started to lose hope. The topic gradually died down when it was rumored that probably no extension was contemplated. Debate on prospective candidates also took place in which it was said that Lt Gen Shamim Wyne, recently posted as CGS was the senior most. Some talked of Lt Gen Absar Ahmad, commanding Strategic Force Command, while others projected Lt Gen Ahsan Azhar, already on extension. Anti-extension writers wrote articles giving lengthy reasons and ramifications suggesting that extension should not be given. They made leading suggestions that Kayani should retire on due date with honor and dignity. When intensity of speculations began to gather momentum, it was decided by the chief executive to put this issue to rest.

Late evening on July 22, all the TV channels suddenly started announcing breaking news that soon the PM would address the nation and talk about extension of Army Chief. While the media disclosed that two-year extension had been agreed to, everyone was taken by surprise when Gilani announced three-year extension. Many tongues began to yap about the timing of the announcement which somehow coincided with the visit of Hillary Clinton. Conspiracy theorists suspected a deal struck between Kayani and PPP leadership to protect each others interests till 2013. Voices are heard that Kayani may now yield to US pressure of launching an operation in North Waziristan after getting an extension.

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It must be remembered that Kayani is not sleeping on bed of roses. He is not the one who would command his troops from GHQ but puts his life in danger and visits all the hotspots frequently. Under uncertain security and slippery political environments and tense geo-political conditions, most would have opted to call it a day and lead a quiet retired life. Having achieved the coveted post of COAS, he had reached the pinnacle of his career and God bestowed upon him fame and honor as well. None would disagree that it was an uphill ask to restore morale and image of Army and to silence the critics. It was best for him to bid farewell to arms when his popularity at home and abroad was at peak and he had earned respect and admiration of all and sundry.

On occasions he took decisions which didn’t please political leadership or Washington. Soon after taking over he called back all army officers serving in civil departments on lucrative posts. His decision was resented by the affected officers but hailed by civil circles. He forbid all his under commands from meeting politicians, and agencies from meddling in elections and ensured that elections were conducted freely and fairly. These decisions were again disliked by President Musharraf and those who wanted to influence election results in their favor but welcomed by great majority. He then concentrated on his domain and in short time brought about revolutionary improvements in the well being of lower ranks. His welfare measures went a long way in building two-way rapport, trust and confidence and in uplifting their sagging morale.

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He gave preference to senior officers imbued with warrior spirit and leadership qualities over staff types and adjusted them at right places. He put an end to routine training cycle and replaced it with concentrated on low intensity warfare training and honing of skills of junior leaders. He further fine tuned battle intelligence system and plans how to go about countering threat of terrorism that had attained dangerous proportions. He developed special rapport with PAF since during his predecessor’s tenure, Army-PAF relations had soured. Never before, relations between the Army and PAF had warmed up so profusely. These imaginative initiatives helped him in earning another feather in his cap when the Army backed up by PAF achieved brilliant victories in Swat, South Waziristan and Bajaur and broke the back of TTP. He shot into prominence and became a popular international figure after his interaction with US and NATO senior military officers at NATO HQ in Brussels where he gave his visionary concepts. Despite his cap studded with feathers, series of successes didn’t go into his head and he remained humble and taciturn.

His habit of taking a firm stand on principles was not to the liking of unprincipled and easy going civilian leaders. He earned accolades of the nation when he played a key role in convincing the President to soften his rigid stance on restoration of judges. During the final phase of long march in March 2009 and afterwards, rumor was rife that he may be eased out since Zardari had swallowed the bitter pill reluctantly. However, his achievements in war on terror which turned the tide came to his rescue. His concerns over placement of ISI under Ministry of Interior and over Kerry Lugar Bill were other areas of friction with civil leadership.

It is therefore quite amazing that President Zardari and PM Gilani instead of denying him extension, they have extended his service by three years. He showed no keenness for extension nor requested anyone for it. This is for the time that civilian rulers have given additional full term extension to an army chief. Kayani had taken all his corps commanders and PSOs into confidence before accepting the offer who all gladly agreed to the proposal in overall best interest of Army and national interest. He may be compensating those who have been deprived of prestigious post of COAS. While no tear was shed when Gen Musharraf handed over the baton to Kayani in late 2008, barring few critics, majority has welcomed the decision. Within Army and even in sister services and the police, the news has been hailed.

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Finally, I will dwell upon the example quoted by few writers about Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar (COAS from February 1993-February 1996), who had declined extension offered to him by Benazir Bhutto. One may recall that he intervened as an intermediary between the two gladiators, President Ishaq and PM Nawaz Sharif, since both had refused to unlock their horns. A compromise formula was worked out whereby both had to resign from their posts on July 17, 1993. The PML under Nawaz never forgave Kakar for his alleged partisan role in the deadly confrontation. Nawaz strongly felt that Kakar had leaned towards Benazir rather than remaining neutral. Since Kakar had paved the way for her to return to power second time in 1994, gratified Benazir wanted to return the favor. Had he accepted her offer, his partisan role would have got confirmed. During his three year tenure Kakar neither came across any serious challenge nor did anything extraordinary. He was not very popular among serving officers as well as retired officers. With this background, there is no comparison between Kakar and Kayani as far as challenges faced and achievements made are concerned. In my view Kayani deserves this extension and any further discussion on this subject will be counter productive.

The writer is a defence analyst and author of several books.