The Difference Between 1955 and 2010 – by Shehrbano Taseer


Abraham Lincoln once remarked, “if you really want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Pakistan watched as Iskander Mirza gave his Army Commander at the time, the notorious General Ayub Khan, a tenure extension in 1955. Ayub Khan devolved into a military despot, crushed Pakistan’s nascent democratic process by staging a coup, and drove its economy into the ground. There remains some legitimate grounds for concern, then, over the civilian government’s decision to give General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani another three-year term as Chief of the Army Staff. General Kayani, however, is not Ayub Khan, and 2010 is not 1955.

General Kayani’s tenure extension comes at a time where there is much international scrutiny being placed on Pakistan’s military and government leadership over the war against the extremists. His extension is seen by some as key to providing continuity to Pakistan’s military effort and stability to the region.

Pakistan’s tumultuous civil-military relationship does not exactly allow for history to be on Kayani’s side. Opponents of the decision are furiously voicing concerns about the disruption of the organizational hierarchy of the army, the possible undermining of civilian control of government, the potential of a coup, and of course, the ‘principle’ of the matter. For those who regard this decision as morally indefensible, I ask them to take a minute to consider the alternative.

When bringing up Ayub Khan’s painful example it is important to look at context when drawing comparisons. These are extraordinary circumstances. I cannot stress this enough. Pakistan faces an existential threat at the hands of extremists beheading human beings over religious differences and destroying the fabric of its pluralist society. This conflict is not one of its choice. The current government is battling an enemy it has inherited. The situation is dire; in this war, there is no substitute for victory. In a time where Pakistan’s stability and future is at stake, no one can refute that the pragmatic extension of Kayani’s tenure might be in the best interest of the nation.

General Kayani is seen as one of the least corrupt generals in Pakistan’s history. He is shrewd, apolitical, and dignified. Furthermore, Kayani has shown unprecedented capability in combating the extremists, and Pakistani forces have met considerable success so far. There are few parallels in military history, in fact, of such an operation where an administration went to such lengths to protect its civilians. Him and his lieutenants have made headway in communication with the Afghan government, Kayani has also earned the trust of the U.S and NATO forces, Pakistan’s allies in this war. Continuity, therefore, is crucial; a change in the military high command in the middle of war is a needless risk. Even the Americans and the British did not adhere to normal retirement patterns for their top commanders in the middle of the Second World War.

The same cannot be said for Ayub Khan. At the time of independence, he was not selected to represent Pakistan in the partition council set up to divide the assets of the British Indian Army between the Pakistani and Indian armies. There were nine other officers senior to Ayub Khan on August 14, 1947; he was Pakistan Army No10 (PA10). Also, His dubious promotion from colonel to general occurred in less than four years. Kayani, on the other hand, was appointed Chief of the Army Staff in 2007, thirty-six years after he joined the army in 1971.

In Ayub Khan’s diary, he shows immense political greed starting from as early as 1954. In chapter eleven of his book, Friends Not Masters, he opposes parliamentary democracy and favors Islamization. He also spends six pages outlining ‘solutions’ to assuage the state of affairs in Pakistan. General Kayani has displayed no such inclination. He has consistently expressed harmonization of socio-political, administrative, and military strategies. He has been supportive of the continuity of a democratic process. The army has its plate full with operations in FATA. The hue and cry about the potential for a coup, then, is asinine. The decision to extend General Kayani’s tenure could actually allow for the civilian government to more confidently assert itself in national security policy matters and in strengthening political institutions.

The loyalty of soldiers and officers lies first and foremost with their country; their priorities are its defense and sovereignty. As a corollary of the extension, there are many generals who will be forced to retire before Kayani’s term ends in 2013. Let us hope the enormity of the task ahead preempts disgruntlement within the army’s senior echelons.

Kayani could take this opportunity to come up with a better system of command and control for the army. He could end the doubt that some civilians have about military economic ventures. He could also further diversify the army to include more Sindhis and Balochis, reflecting Pakistan’s ethnic diversity.

One potential grievance with Kayani may lie in the perception that he allowed Benazir Bhutto’s murder investigation to remain inconclusive. Another concern is that the extension portrays the existence of a close tie between the military and the ruling PPP, a reversal of the past when Pakistan’s largest political party and its most powerful institution were seen at loggerheads. The PPP currently faces a dual challenge from the PML-N and from the Supreme Court. General Kayani’s extension could keep PMLN out of power in Islamabad until 2013. The ruling party must beware that the PML-N could turn to Islamists and right-wing politicians to consolidate its support, and that would further threaten the PPP’s already unsteady future.Shehrbano Taseer is a freelance journalist currently based in Washington DC.


7 responses to “The Difference Between 1955 and 2010 – by Shehrbano Taseer”

  1. Every COAS till he showed his true color was viewed as “A GOOD SOUL”.
    While i dont want to look pessimistic, i say, he is no different from others , considering the “Environment” in which he has spend all his life.

    All men from PMA KAKUL have same chip, one way or another. Hardly few have been able become like Rtd. Air Marshal Asghar Khan.

  2. A few problems with this piece

    1. On Kayani’s corruption – what is the author basing her assertion that Kayani is the least corrupt general in Pakistani history? Has their been any neutral inquiry into his corruption? Or the corruption of any top generals for that matter? If so, it would be useful to cite it, otherwise maybe say that this is just her personal opinion.

    2. It seems strange to compare Kayani to writings on or by Ayub because with Ayub we have far more source material regarding his political ambitions because — well because he RULED for 10 years. If one looks back to the contemporary sources in 1955, I am sure that they would read similarly to Ms. Taseer’s article… praising Ayub’s professionalism, praising him as the glue that holds the government together, etc. That’s why it’s useful to use Ayub as a historical example to draw lessons about Kayani’s extension from rather than comparing them side by side and because there is not yet any literature about Kayani’s power grab concluding that the two situations are different!

    3. There have been plenty of reports about civilian casualties in Bajaur, Swat, South Waziristan, Orakzai and Khyber. The author’s claim that “There are few parallels in military history, in fact, of such an operation where an administration went to such lengths to protect its civilians. ” just seems to be a personal opinion without any empirical basis.

  3. I am an Indian. As an Indian, I can’t be sure if Gen. Kayani is good or bad when it comes to India. But certainly he is a good omen for Pakistan.

  4. The writer is the governor Punjab’s daughter and has predictably parroted the PPP government’s official spin. Kayani got an extension because the army and the US wanted it, & there wasn’t a damn thing the civilian government could do about it. By now their weakness vis-a-vis the security establishment is glaring. But of course such things can’t be admitted to, hence the canard of ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
    Just consider Pakistan’s history; when is it not in extraordinary circumstances? We are simultaneously told that the army is (allegedly) Pakistan’s strongest and most stable institution. If it too then cannot find a successor to its chief once his term is up, God help us! Kayani ought to have been given an extension for life!
    The comparison with the 2nd World War is ridiculous. Pakistan’s army is fighting against internal militancy, not against other nation states, as or more powerful than itself. A more apt comparison would be with the British in Northern Ireland or the Russians in Chechnya, & I don’t believe the British or the Russian army chiefs received any extensions of service.
    The Pakistan Taliban are, by the highest estimates, a core of no more than 15,000 fighters. They have mostly firearms and some basic anti-armor, anti-air weapons. Of course, they are guerrillas,mostly indigenous & fighting in ambush-friendly terrain, so no pushovers by any stretch. Nevertheless, the Pakistan army is a behemoth over half a million strong, with another half in reserves and paramilitaries. It has 12 Corps and over two dozen full infantry divisions. It has significant air capability of its own, and is supported by a sizable air-force. Are we then being told that this giant war machine can’t handle a few thousand guerrillas without the presence of one, specific individual at the helm? This war machine has also consumed a major portion, if not the majority, of the nation’s resources over the last 60 years. If this is the level of its capability, can I ask for a tax rebate?
    Fact is, Zardari’s government had surrendered the internal security portfolio to the army even before this extension, so its hardly surprising that the de jure had to defer to the de facto. Zardari had his chance at the beginning. He could have kept his alliance with Sharif, & along with the ANP & MQM created a first in Pakistani history; a coming together of all the genuine political forces in the country. Why this hasn’t happened is remarkable, considering that they share a common enemy in the Army/ISI, one that has victimized all of them at different times. Even bitter rivals can find the sense to come together in this situation, if only until the common adversary is defeated. But apparently not these rivals, and no one is more to blame than Zardari. He has shown all the cunning of the street-smart hood and none of the strategic thinking of an able national leader. He sacrificed the alliance with Sharif by refusing to restore the the pre-November 07 judiciary; something he had to eventually swallow in any case, after losing all opportunity to gain anything in return. What he could have gained was potentially enormous i.e not just the political future of his party but a permanent end to the army’s presence at the helm of national affairs. Instead, he has seen the army once again firmly ensconced in the high chair, with no hope now of any improvement in the status quo with India & Afghanistan.
    Clearly the foreign policy of the state with regards to all our neighbors, i.e. the most important part of our foreign policy, is also firmly back under the control of the khakis. Pity.

  5. O come on Miss Taseer…this website is for the critical supporters of the pakistan peoples party…not for the “blind” ones…

  6. The author is whistling in the dark and engaged in wishful thinking. The very granting of extension is an indication of the choke-hold military has on body politics of that unfortunate country. The cahnge of military leadership even in the middle of war ( ala Iraq or Afghanistan) is common and not counter to any so-called continuity!The revelations in the latest dumping of diplomatic messages further affirms this sad fact.