Post-Abbottabad, Pak army chief struggles to keep his job
Pakistan’s army chief, the most powerful man in the country, is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers since the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to Pakistani officials and people who have met the chief in recent weeks.Updated: Jun 16, 2011 23:29 IST
Pakistan’s army chief, the most powerful man in the country, is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers since the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to Pakistani officials and people who have met the chief in recent weeks.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has led the army since 2007, faces such intense discontent over what is seen as his cozy relationship with the United States that a colonels’ coup, while unlikely, was not out of the question, said a well-informed Pakistani who has seen the general in recent weeks, as well as a U.S. military official involved with Pakistan for many years.
The Pakistani army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that Kayani get much tougher with the Americans, even edging toward a break, Pakistanis who follow the army closely said.
Washington, with its own hard line against Pakistan, had pushed Kayani into a defensive crouch, along with his troops, and if the general was pushed out, the United States would face a more uncompromising anti-American army chief, the Pakistani said.
To repair the reputation of the army, and to ensure his own survival, Kayani made an extraordinary tour of more than a dozen garrisons, mess halls and other institutions in the six weeks since the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden to rally support among his rank-and-file troops, who were almost uniformly anti-American, according to participants and people briefed on the sessions.
During a long session in late May at the National Defence University, the premier academy in Islamabad, the capital, one officer got up after Kayani’s address and challenged his policy of cooperation with the US.
The officer asked, “If they don’t trust us, how can we trust them?” according to Shaukaut Qadri, a retired army brigadier who was briefed on the session.
Kayani essentially responded, “We can’t,” Qadri said.
In response to pressure from his troops, Pakistani and U.S. officials said, Kayani had already become a more obstinate partner, standing ever more firm with each high-level U.S. delegation that has visited since the raid to try and rescue the shattered U.S.-Pakistani relationship.
In a prominent example of the new Pakistani intransigence, The New York Times reported on Tuesday that, according to U.S. officials, Pakistan’s spy agency had arrested five Pakistani informants who helped the Central Intelligence Agency before the bin Laden raid.
The officials said one of them is a doctor who has served as a major in the Pakistani army. In a statement on Wednesday, a Pakistani military spokesman called the story “false” and said no army officer was detained.
Overall, Pakistani and U.S. officials said, the relationship was now more competitive and combative than cooperative.
Kayani told the director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, during a visit here last weekend that Pakistan would not accede to his request for independent operations by the agency, Pakistani and U.S. officials said.
First Published: Jun 16, 2011 23:27 IST