Pakistan’s Army chief general, Ashfaq Kayani, has announced that he will retire on 29 November. In doing so, he put an end to the rumours running from D.C. to Delhi about the stability of the region.
It is no secret that talk of Afghan settlement and a negotiated pause to the war is contingent on the Pakistan army. Over the last six years as army chief, and previously as ISI Chief and Director-General of Military Operations, General Kayani has been one of the foremost figures in the Afghan War. Western defence chiefs – particularly General Sir David Richards and General Stanley McChrystal – forged extremely close relationships with Kayani. They understood that the region’s stability depends on this quiet, chain-smoking general.
It is, therefore, no surprise that there has been much chatter in the West and the East on who will succeed him. There are plenty of contenders: the Pakistan army contains at least half a dozen three star generals who are equally able to take over. The current crop of generals is battle-hardened after a decade of continuous and costly war. In the last six years, the majority of Pakistan army staff officers have been blooded along the Afghan border, fighting Baluch and Taliban insurgents. Generals have often led the battle themselves, and a couple of two-star and three-star generals have been killed on the front line. The SWAT valley operations were a resounding success, and NATO/ISAF figures were at pains to stress that the Pakistan army is fundamental to any coalition effort in Afghanistan. General Haroon Aslam, the front runner to succeed Kayani, led troops in the SWAT valley. General Tariq Khan led the battle personally in Bjur Agency. General Masood Aslam was the strategist behind the victory in South Waziristan and in outwitting Mangal Bagh Afridi in the Khyber Valley.