In Pakistan, U.S. Envoy Courts No. 2 General
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 20 -- When Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte visited Pakistan last weekend, he met once with President Pervez Musharraf, for two hours. But before he left town, he held three meetings with a lesser-known figure: Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the deputy army chief.
The two shared a Saturday night dinner.
The attention paid to Kiyani has affirmed reports here that he will soon be anointed Musharraf's successor as head of the army -- and, as such, will be a vital ally for the Bush administration during a time of crisis.
"Use your influence. You can help save Pakistan," Negroponte told Kiyani during the visit, according to a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Musharraf has repeatedly said he will step down from his army post. It remains unclear when he will do so. If Kiyani is named successor, he will command Pakistan's 600,000 troops and lead the country's most important institution.
Power in Pakistan flows from the uniform, as a popular saying here goes. Half of the country's rulers have been sons of the military.
"To understand the power of Pakistan, you have to understand that it's the military that matters. And they are kingmakers here," said Shireen M. Mazari of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. "I don't know if that implies that Kiyani can indeed influence Musharraf politically right now. But he may well do in the future, if history is an indicator."
Public support for Musharraf, who was installed in the presidency after a 1999 coup, has never been as low as it is now, following his decision Nov. 3 to declare emergency rule, fire several Supreme Court justices and crack down on the news media.
On Tuesday, Musharraf's government released more than 3,000 political prisoners who had been held under emergency rule, many of them lawyers. But the Interior Ministry said 2,000 people remain detained. And in Lahore, a group of lawyers was briefly released and then arrested again.
Meanwhile, police detained 150 journalists in the southern city of Karachi, where violence broke out after police sprayed tear gas, used batons to beat protesters and chased them through the streets. Several journalists were shown on television injured.
Musharraf flew to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday amid reports that he might be meeting with Nawaz Sharif -- the prime minister ousted in the '99 coup.
With the political uncertainty continuing in Pakistan, analysts say Kiyani is key to Musharraf's own future.