The General in the Wings

The least desirable — but certainly not unlikely — short-term outcome of Pakistan’s post-Bhutto turmoil is the emergence of another military strongman to replace President Pervez Musharraf. In which case, the name most frequently mentioned in Washington is Musharraf’s recent successor as chief of the country’s powerful army, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani. Unlike the blustering Musharraf, the general waiting in the wings is reclusive and at the same time popular with the army, but the apparent contradictions in his background make him hard to read.

Before taking over as army chief from Musharraf, he was director of the murky Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, known to have long standing ties with the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists. It was while Kiyani ran the ISI that the Taliban — driven out of Afghanistan by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001– made its comeback, establishing safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal territories along the Afghan border. But Kiyani was a longtime friend of Benazir Bhutto, having been her military aid from 1988-1990. Last summer, he helped to negotiate her political deal with Musharraf, and her return to Pakistan. He attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., and had — as a U.S. State Department spokesman put it — “some long term interaction” with senior American military officers and CIA staffers.

Kiyani’s friendship with Bhutto was one reason why the Bush administration backed his appointment to head the army. At the same time, although not a member of Musharraf’s inner circle, he is also loyal to the beleaguered president. The present crisis may test that loyalty.

The above is an excerpt from this week’s Corridors of Power, a weekly column written by WPR Editor-at-Large Roland Flamini that features notable news items from the world of diplomacy and international relations. Click here to browse past editions of Corridors.

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