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Home > India > News > Columnists > Aditi Phadnis

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The man who calls the shots in Pakistan

December 29, 2008

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For about the millionth time since 1947 (when India had its first set of troubles with Pakistan following the incursion of the tribal raiders in Kashmir), India is asking itself the same question: Who's really in charge in Pakistan?

Some things are clear. While the government led by Asif Ali Zardari [Images] is fully in command of politics, aided by a pliant judiciary, a patient military, a supportive US and a majority in Parliament, the Pakistani State is frighteningly weak. Elements of the State have an interest in keeping it weak. The Pakistani Army is one of them. A weak State allows war. A strong State controls it.

With an increasingly prevalent view in India that the Mumbai attacks had the sanction and endorsement of the Pakistani Army and the shadowy Inter Services Intelligence, it is the man at the helm of things who is under a scanner.

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has been listed at number 20 by Newsweek in a list of 50 'Global Elite' earlier this month and rubs shoulders with such worthies as Shah Rukh Khan [Images] and Osama Bin Laden [Images]. And no, he isn't the army chief of the armed forces of Mars [Images] (remember Pranab Mukherjee's [Images] rhetorical question about the country of origin of the Mumbai [Images]  terrorists?), but the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, having risen to that post following a stint as the ISI chief himself.

A reclusive man who has never given a press interview, Kayani is a chain smoker with a reputation of talking little but getting a lot done. The son of an army NCO, he received his commission in the Pakistani army in 1971 in the prized Baloch Regiment as an infantryman. His father died when he was training at the military academy. The task of supporting his family -- he was the eldest of four brothers -- fell on him.

In 2002, he was appointed commander of the key Rawalpindi Corps. He served as Pakistan's Director General of Military Operations when the attack on the Indian Parliament and Operation Parakram took place. In 2003, the then President Pervez Musharraf [Images] gave Kayani charge of investigating two assassination attempts against him.

All intelligence agencies in the country were tasked to work with him. In a few months, Kayani had unravelled the two plots and arrested many culprits. In 2004, he was promoted to head the ISI.

After Gen Musharraf shrugged off his uniform, Kayani gave no indication of wanting to wear a civilian hat. In fact, he likened coups to temporary bypasses that are created when a bridge collapses on democracy's highway. After the bridge is repaired, he said to a Pakistani newspaper, there's no longer need for the detour.

As the Chief of Army Staff, he declared 2008 the "year of the soldier," an attempt to improve the weak morale of the Pakistani Army which has lost more than 1,000 soldiers and police officers since 2001.

Earlier this year, several hundred soldiers surrendered to militants in Waziristan, causing deep concern among Pakistani military officials. Under him, the Army laid a wreath on the grave of slain leader Benazir Bhutto [Images], in itself no small gesture when it is the Army and the ISI that were charged with Bhutto's assassination at one point by her party.

In 2007, Pakistan suspended celebrating its Defence Day (September 6 every year to commemorate its 'victory' over India during the 1965 war) because of the country's unstable law and order situation, a comment in itself. This year, on Defence Day, Kayani said:  "Pakistan is facing numerous threats to its security, which call for forging unity and trust amongst the armed forces and the nation. We will have to put in our hearts and soul to safeguard Pakistan's sovereignty and integrity. Particularly, we need to take wise decisions in order to eliminate the menace of terror and extremism from our soil."

India is waiting for Kayani to keep his word.

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