By Griff Witte and Kamran Khan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 2 -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday picked his trusted former spy chief to succeed him as leader of the army, and signaled that exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto would be able to return to Pakistan this month without facing charges.
Taken together, the moves bring greater focus to an emerging political arrangement in which Musharraf will have to share power with others, rather than wield it almost single-handedly as he has for eight years. They also indicate that Musharraf is increasingly confident he will win a new term in elections Saturday, despite a tumultuous year in which his popularity has sunk to new lows and his ability to hang on to the presidency has often been in doubt.
Musharraf, who has long been reluctant to shed a uniform he considers his "second skin," announced Tuesday that a close confidant, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, would take over the critical job of army chief when Musharraf retires from active duty after the election.
Kiyani, who most recently served as head of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, is considered moderate and pro-Western. He has been at the forefront of Pakistani efforts to battle Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents and is expected to come up with a new strategy for turning around a war that has been going badly.
"It's a very challenging assignment," said military analyst Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general. "Pakistan is faced with a very serious insurgency. For him, it will be a major task to prepare the army to counter that insurgency."
One senior military official said Kiyani is likely to change course given that two cease-fires in the restive tribal regions have fallen apart.
"We will see some crucial changes in tactics," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "General Kiyani was never an enthusiastic supporter of peace deals in the tribal belt."
Before running the spy agency, Kiyani had commanded troops in Rawalpindi, home of the military's headquarters. A graduate of military training courses in the United States, Kiyani had also investigated two assassination attempts against Musharraf in 2003. Colleagues say he is more knowledgeable about al-Qaeda than any other army general.
While Kiyani is loyal to Musharraf, he will have significant independence as army chief. The nation has been under military rule for more than half of its 60 years, but even when the country is governed by civilians, the army chief is part of a power troika that also includes the president and prime minister.
Kiyani is said to have good relations with some of the country's civilian political leaders, including Bhutto. He served as a go-between during power-sharing negotiations between the president and Bhutto this summer, and was once her deputy military secretary.
Bhutto, who was prime minister twice in the 1980s and 1990s, is to fly from London to Pakistan on Oct. 18 and has made no secret of her ambition to win back her job.
On Tuesday, Musharraf's government indicated that it will set aside corruption cases against her, a move that opens the door for her to come back and compete in parliamentary elections slated for January.
The decision comes as part of plans for a broader amnesty for politicians facing corruption charges that are at least eight years old and that have not been proved. Such an amnesty was one of Bhutto's major demands in her negotiations with Musharraf.
"We are working on bringing about a national reconciliation," said government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan. "The biggest hurdles have been these cases that everyone claims are politically motivated."
Apparently in return for the cases being dropped, Bhutto's party has not tried to block Musharraf's reelection. "They have lent a huge helping hand to Musharraf," said political analyst Ayaz Amir.
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party issued a statement Tuesday night denying that any deal had been reached.
Left out of the amnesty is former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has refused to negotiate with Musharraf and who returned last month from seven years in exile only to be immediately deported.
On Tuesday, Sharif's party led a coalition of Musharraf opponents who resigned from the national and provincial assemblies in protest over the president's election plans. They argue that the election is invalid because the assemblies are weeks away from expiring and that Musharraf should not be able to run because of his job as army chief.
"We think this process is illegal and unconstitutional," said Javed Hashmi, acting president of Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. "We don't want to be part of it."
The move was largely symbolic, however, since Musharraf has the support he needs to win another term. Out of a national assembly of 342 members, just 85 stepped down. Members of Bhutto's party were not among them.
Despite deep disaffection with Musharraf, the opposition parties have had trouble mobilizing against him in recent months. On Tuesday, only about 300 flag-waving party activists showed up at the Parliament building to show support for the lawmakers who had resigned.
Khan reported from Karachi, Pakistan.