Ashfaq Kiyani: Pakistan’s Hope?

In examining the Bush administration’s Plan B for Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, we noted previously in this space that the new chief of staff of the Pakistani army, Ashfaq Kiyani, figures prominently among those who are viewed to be forces for moderation and stability. Our own Roland Flamini was among the first to note that Kiyani’s name was being mentioned hopefully in Washington.

Today, in a column for the Washington Post, David Ignatius reports U.S. Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, views Kiyani as a positive force as well:

Fallon’s account supports other recent evidence that Kiyani is a professional soldier who wants to rebuild an army whose reputation and morale were tarnished during the Musharraf years.

Fallon said that the new chief of staff “sees the army as an apolitical force” and that Kiyani pledged that “he wants free and open elections” on Feb. 18, a vote that was delayed after Bhutto’s murder. In contrast with the Musharraf years, Fallon said, “I would expect the army gets a lot more attention now because the guy who’s in charge only has one job.”

“I’m encouraged that he seems to understand the necessity of doing counterinsurgency,” Fallon continued. He said Kiyani will try to reorient the army from its focus on the external threat posed by India to greater recognition of the internal danger posed by Muslim extremists, especially the al-Qaeda terrorists who operate out of the Waziristan region in northwestern Pakistan, known here as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.

. . .

Fallon said the United States plans to work with Kiyani and the Pakistani army on new programs that will bring more economic growth and the rule of law to the tribal areas, which since the days of the British Raj have usually been treated as ungovernable. The United States will help the Pakistanis train and expand the Frontier Corps, a local constabulary in the tribal areas that is now toothless. The United States also wants to provide training and equipment for Pakistani special forces, which would make it easier for them to operate jointly with their American counterparts.

We are also examining Kiyani in a new World Politics Review video, posted today. The video, produced as part of our new relationship with Feature Story News, features an interview with former Pakistani Army Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, who says that, in addition to being highly regarded in the West, Kiyani is also “highly regarded” within the Pakistani military.

The video also features a November 2007 interview with the late Benazire Bhutto, who complained then that the Pakistani military was “rudderless and leaderless.”

It’s perhaps unrealistic to see in Kiyani an answer to all of Pakistan’s problems, but it’s clear the current situation is preferable to the previous one, before Musharraf gave up his uniform.

David Ignatius’ column was among the selections in today’s WPR Media Roundup. Don’t miss must-read news and opinion, sign up for the Roundup now. For more WPR videos, including two compelling reports on the current situation in Somalia, visit our video section.