Kayani Seeks New Deal with Obama?

Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States today, marking the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of a new era in American politics.  Among those hopeful for change appears to be Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.    

For the second time this month, Gen. Kayani has called for the ceasing of U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan.  His statement yesterday was echoed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen. Tariq Majid, who said the attacks were causing political and economic trouble for Pakistan.

General Kayani’s comments could be dismissed as posturing for domestic consumption.  But the timing — two statements in the final period of the Obama transition — suggests otherwise.

It is conceivable that Gen. Kayani consented to U.S. drone strikes in August as he concluded it was the lesser of two evils cash-strapped Pakistan had to choose from — the other evil being U.S. ground incursions.  Factoring in his calculation could have been the fact that the Bush administration was on its way out and there would be a potential opportunity to strike a new deal in four months.

Whether this was Gen. Kayani’s game plan is unclear and it’s uncertain as to whether it would even work.  After taking control over U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly told the Pakistani leadership that there will be no policy change in the next administration.  

But the role of Gen. Petraeus, who arrives in Islamabad today, in the Obama administration is unclear.  There appears to be a concerted effort by Chairman of Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen to sideline Gen. Petraeus (very transparent in Elizabeth Bumiller’s profile of Adm. Mullen).  

And there will be new, multiple (and perhaps overlapping/competing) centers of power in the Obama administration.  Managing the “team of rivals” will be a cerebral and pragmatic chief executive — a clear contrast from his predecessor.  Despite the continuity of challenges, policy outputs could very well be different.  And that might be what Gen. Kayani is banking on.

Change will not occur overnight.  The Obama administration’s review of the Afghanistan-Pakistan war is expected to conclude by early April.    

A dramatic game changer in Islamabad before then, however, would require an accelerated policy shift.

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CONFIRMED: Ashfaq Kiyani New VCOAS; Tariq Majeed new CJCS

Aaj TV has just reported that Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani (alt spellings: Ashfaq Kayani and Ashfaq Kiani) has been promoted to four-star general and appointed as the vice chief of army staff (VCOAS). This paves the way for his succession of Gen. Pervez Musharraf as chief of army staff when the latter retires from the army in the coming weeks. Lt. Gen. Tariq Majeed has also been promoted to four-star general and will become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff (CJCS).

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Nadeem Taj: New ISI Chief

The Pakistan Army has promoted six major generals to lieutenant general today. The most important advancement is that of Nadeem Taj, who is the new head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), replacing Ashfaq Kiyani (alt spellings: Ashfaq Kayani and Ashfaq Kiani).

Kiyani is likely to be the next Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS), paving the way for his automatic succession of Pervez Musharraf as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) upon the Pakistani president’s retirement from the army. Other candidates include Tariq Majeed, Muhammad Sabir, and Salahuddin Satti.

These leadership changes are critical for Musharraf as his retirement from the army and vacating the post of COAS makes him severely vulnerable. The COAS has historically been the most powerful position in Pakistan and Musharraf is keen to replace himself with a loyalist.

Pakistan’s current political climate is akin to an armed standoff in which two (or more, perhaps) sides have their guns pointed at one another. Musharraf will drop his weapon as requested by his opponents, but only if he can trust his backup. He wants ensure that he will not be pounced upon (or worse) by his political opponents or those armed on his side (i.e. COAS, VCOAS, DG ISI) after disarming himself. His personal security and influence can remain as long as those in control of the big guns are loyal to him.

Musharraf’s vulnerabilities will increase into October. A key factor in determining the extent to which he will be weakened will be determined not only by the ongoing Supreme Court hearings, but also by the extent to which the People’s Party and Fazlur Rahman’s JUI accomodate Musharraf. Political pragmatists, both Benazir and Fazlur Rahman are somewhat on the fence, are waiting to see if the tide will fully turn against Musharraf or if they can extract significant concessions from him while he’s weak.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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