Islamabad: Pakistan's powerful Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was on Thursday given a three-year extension of service by the government to ensure continuity in counter-terrorism operations, ending months of speculation over his continuance.
The 58-year-old Kayani, who replaced former president Pervez Musharraf as Army chief in 2007, was to retire on November 28.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the government's decision to extend his tenure during a televised address to the nation last night.
"In the best interests of the country, I have decided in my capacity as Prime Minister to give Gen Kayani an extension of three years from November 29, 2010 while relaxing the existing policy and after consulting President Asif Ali Zardari," Gilani said.
"This decision has been made in the light of (Kayani's) effective role in the war against terrorism and different law enforcement operations," he said, explain the reasons for the government's decision.
Gilani said the decision would ensure continuity of leadership under the current Army chief in military operations against extremists and terrorists.
He noted that Kayani had successful led operations in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan and "his staying on is in our best interests".
"The government is presently engaged in a war against terrorism which is now in a critical stage," Gilani remarked.
"We are confident that under the leadership of Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the war against terrorism will be taken to its conclusion," he added.
Kayani, who has played a key role in shaping foreign policy, will continue in the important post till 2013. The country's 14th Army chief, Kayani, is also a former chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
The government's decision ended months of speculation on whether Kayani would be given an extension.
There had also been reports that the government could create the new post of Chief of Defence Staff to accommodate Kayani following his retirement.
Kayani, who acknowledged earlier this year that the Pakistan Army is "India-centric" because of the unresolved issues between the two countries, initiated several measures to insulate the military from politics soon after assuming the post of Army chief.
He withdrew Army officers from civilian ministries and departments and barred military officers from meeting politicians without permission.
Kayani belongs to the Jhelum region, a part of Punjab province known for producing soldiers. He joined the Army in 1971 and fought in the war against India in the same year.
Kayani also played a key role in boosting the morale of troops 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.
At the same time, Kayani has played a key role in shaping foreign policy, especially Pakistan's relations with the US and India.
He chaired a meeting of federal secretaries at the Army General Headquarters to prepare for the Strategic Dialogue with the US.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met Kayani and ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, at the General Headquarters before calling his Indian counterpart SM Krishna and agreeing to hold bilateral talks in Islamabad on July 15.
Political commentators feel Kayani may have played a pivotal role in the script going wrong during the India-Pakistan Foreign Ministers meeting on July 15.
External Affairs Minister Krishna and Foreign Minister Qureshi were said to have made good progress during the first session of their talks.
Krishna was to meet Prime Minister Gilani in the afternoon, but there was an inexplicable last-minute switch in schedule following which he met President before the premier.
In the time slot that Krishna was to meet Gilani, Kayani met the Prime Minister. Kayani had also met Zardari. However, when the talks between the foreign ministers resumed after Krishna's two call-ons, the atmosphere totally changed and Pakistan took an unexpectedly stringent posture leading to the deadlock at the talks.
Kayani also served as deputy military secretary during the first stint of Benazir Bhutto as prime minister in the 1980s.
Besides being Chief of Staff of a corps, Kayani also served as Director General of Military Operations. He is a graduate of Fort Benning in the US, Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and the National Defence College Islamabad.
First Published: Friday, July 23, 2010, 12:26