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Why US failed to convince Kayani

Countless US officials in recent years have lectured and listened to Gen Ashfaq Kayani, the man many view as the most powerful in Pakistan.

world Updated: Jan 02, 2011 23:07 IST
The Washington Post
The Washington Post

Countless US officials in recent years have lectured and listened to Gen Ashfaq Kayani, the man many view as the most powerful in Pakistan. They have drunk tea and played golf with him, feted him and flown with him in helicopters.

But they have yet to persuade him to undertake what the Obama administration’s recent strategy review concluded is a key to success in the Afghan war - the elimination of havens inside Pakistan where the Taliban plots and stages attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Kayani, who as Pakistan’s army chief has more direct say over the country’s security strategy than its president or prime minister, has resisted personal appeals from President Obama, US military commanders and senior diplomats.

Recent US intelligence estimates have concluded that he is unlikely to change his mind anytime soon. Despite the entreaties, officials say, Kayani doesn’t trust US motivations and is hedging his bets in case the American strategy for Afghanistan fails.

“Kayani wants to talk about the end state in South Asia,” said one of several officials.

The administration has praised Kayani for operations in 2009 and 2010 against domestic militants in the Swat Valley and in South Waziristan, and has dramatically increased its military and economic assistance to Pakistan. But it has grown frustrated that the general has not launched a ground assault against Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries in North Waziristan.

Kayani has promised action when he has enough troops available, although he has given no indication of when that might be. Most of Pakistan’s half-million-man army remains facing east, toward India.

In recent months, Kayani has sometimes become defiant. When US-Pakistani tensions spiked in September, after two Pakistani soldiers were killed by an Afghanistan-based American helicopter gunship pursuing insurgents on the wrong side of the border, he personally ordered the closure of the main frontier crossing for US military supplies into Afghanistan, according to US and Pakistani officials.

Kayani reportedly was infuriated by the recent WikiLeaks release of US diplomatic cables. In one cable, sent to Washington by the US Embassy in Islamabad last year, he was quoted as discussing with US officials a possible removal of Pakistan’s president and his preferred replacement.

(In Exclusive Partnership with The Washington Post. For additional content, visit

First Published: Jan 02, 2011 23:05 IST

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