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Pakistan’s PM gives army chief three more years

Pervez Musharraf, Ashfaq Kayani

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, right, in 2007 with his military predecessor Pervez Musharraf. Photograph: Anjum Naveed/AP

July 23, 2010

(KATAKAMI / GUARDIAN.CO.UK)  Pakistan‘s PM Yousaf Raza Gilani extended the term of army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for three more years yesterday, saying continuity was needed to ensure the success of the country’s fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban. The decision will likely be welcomed in the US, which has praised Kayani’s leadership and willingness to battle extremists. Washington has some 130,000 troops in neighboring Afghanistan fighting a related insurgency, and US success there is strongly tied to how well Pakistan’s army tampsclamps down on militant activity in its own country.

In a late night address, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said: “To ensure the success of these operations it is the need of the hour that the continuity of military leadership should be maintained.” Kayani’s current three-year term was due to expire in November.

Kayani has been lauded within Pakistan for focusing the army on defense and not disrupting the country’s return to civilian rule after nine years of leadership under ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf that ended 2008.

Pakistan’s army has ruled the country for around half of its 63 years since its independence from Britain and still wields enormous influence.

The possible extension of Kayani’s term had been the subject of speculation for months that had peaked in recent days.

Most commentators and analysts had predicted Kayani would get two or three more years in office, something they said indicated a degree of harmony between the government and the army that could ensure political stability for the remainder of the government’s term.

In April last year, the army moved forcefully against militants in the Swat Valley in an operation that was supported by many Pakistanis. Kayani then ordered a major offensive against the Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold of South Waziristan.

He has also cooperated with US missile strikes that regularly pound extremist targets in the north-west.

Given Pakistan’s long periods of army rule, the announcement was a new experience for many Pakistanis. The only other time a civilian government extended the term of an army chief was in 1951. (*)

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