Islamabad: Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has acknowledged his force is "India-centric" due to unresolved issues between the two countries, will continue playing a key role in shaping foreign policy after the three-year extension granted to him as Pakistan`s Army chief.
Announcing the government`s decision to extend Kayani`s tenure late last night, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the move was necessary to ensure continuity of military leadership for ongoing operations against terrorists.
Gilani also noted that Kayani had always emphasised that democracy is crucial for peace and progress in Pakistan. Though political commentators often speak of Pakistan`s "power troika" comprising the President, Prime Minister and Army chief, insiders in the government acknowledge that it is the publicity-shy Kayani who has emerged as the most important player in shaping Pakistan`s foreign policy, especially relations with India and the US.
A day before Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke to his Indian counterpart SM Krishna on May 11 to set up a meeting, he went to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and held consultations with Kayani, officials said.
On March 16, Kayani chaired a meeting of federal secretaries at the General Headquarters to prepare Pakistan`s agenda for the Strategic Dialogue with the US.
More recently, the Pakistan Army has played a key role in facilitating talks between the Haqqani terrorist network and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Though the Army chief has always played a key role in Pakistan`s politics and foreign policy, Kayani is probably the first chief who has done so while always staying away from the limelight.
The 58-year-old rarely grants interviews to the media but in an interaction with editors in February, he said his force was "India-centric" because of the unresolved issues between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Kayani described India`s Cold Start military doctrine as a "very offensive" strategy and an issue that needs to be addressed in bilateral relations.
He also expressed concern over the training of Afghan troops by India.
While the Pakistan Army has led the operations against the Taliban in the northwestern Swat valley and the volatile tribal belt, it has given no indication that it will crack down on anti-India groups like the Lashker-e-Taliban and Jaish-e-Mohammed, diplomatic sources said.
Shortly after assuming office in November 2007, Kayani initiated several measures to insulate the military from politics.
Kayani withdrew scores of army officers from civilian ministries and departments and barred military officers from meeting politicians without his permission.
He also played a key role in boosting the morale of troops, which suffered a major blow during the tenure of military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and improving training standards.
In April this year, the Pakistan Army conducted the "Azm-e-Nau" (New Resolve) exercise in the Cholistan desert to train for the possibility of a conventional war with India.
About 50,000 troops and air force elements were mobilised for Pakistan`s largest manoeuvres since 1989. A chain smoker and an avid golfer, Kayani is also believed to have played a key role in bringing about changes in the West`s policy on Afghanistan, including ongoing moves to work for reconciliation with Taliban elements.
He is only the second army chief after Gen Ayub Khan to be given an extension by a civilian government and will now remain in office even after President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have completed their terms in September 2013 and March 2013 respectively.
The three-year extension granted to Kayani, who was set to retire on November 28, effectively means that he will stay on for another full term.
Media reports today said the government`s proposal to extend Kayani`s term was conveyed to the Army chief during his meetings with the premier and President on July 15.
The decision was approved by consensus during a meeting of Corps Commanders the following day. Kayani was born into a working class family in April 1952 in a suburb of the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
His father was a non-commissioned officer from Punjab, where the army draws much of its manpower. He commanded several infantry units, including the Rawalpindi Corps whose 111 Brigade led all four military coups in Pakistan, and served as chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Defence experts have welcomed the extension given to Kayani, saying the government had made the right decision to ensure success in the war on terror.
Lt Gen (retired) Talat Masood said, "The decision is correct and no doubt in the larger national interest". Kayani has always tried to help strengthen democracy and democratic forces in the country, he said.
Kayani had also won respect for Pakistan`s armed forces which are at the forefront in the war against terrorism and the extension will help ensure continuity in the military operations against extremists, he added.