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U.S. courts Pakistan's top general, with little result
The general's suspicions
Kayani was a star student at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1988, writing his master's thesis on "Strengths and Weaknesses of the Afghan Resistance Movement." He was among the last Pakistanis to graduate from the college before the United States cut off military assistance to Islamabad in 1990 in response to Pakistan's suspected nuclear weapons program. Eight years later, both Pakistan and India conducted tests of nuclear devices.
The estrangement lasted until President George W. Bush lifted the sanctions in 2001, less than two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Kayani is far from alone in the Pakistani military in suspecting that the United States will abandon Pakistan once it has achieved its goals in Afghanistan, and that its goal remains to leave Pakistan defenseless against nuclear-armed India.
Kayani "is one of the most anti-India chiefs Pakistan has ever had," one U.S. official said.
The son of a noncommissioned army officer, Kayani was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1971. He was chief of military operations during the 2001-02 Pakistan-India crisis. As head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency from 2004 to 2007, he served as a point man for back-channel talks with India initiated by then-President Pervez Musharraf. When Musharraf resigned in 2008, the talks abruptly ended.
The Pakistani military has long been involved in politics, but few believe that the general seeks to lead the nation. "He has stated from the beginning that he has no desire to involve the military in running the country," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. But that does not mean Kayani would stand by "if there was a failure of civilian institutions," Nawaz said. "The army would step in."
Even some Pakistanis see Kayani's India-centric view as dated, self-serving and potentially disastrous as the insurgents the country has harbored increasingly turn on Pakistan itself.
"Nine years into the Afghanistan war, we're fighting various strands of militancy, and we still have an army chief who considers India the major threat," said Cyril Almeida, an editor and columnist at the English-language newspaper Dawn. "That's mind-boggling."
Kayani has cultivated the approval of a strongly anti-American public that opinion polls indicate now holds the military in far higher esteem than it does the weak civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistani officials say the need for public support is a key reason for rebuffing U.S. pleas for an offensive in North Waziristan. In addition to necessitating the transfer of troops from the Indian border, Pakistani military and intelligence officials say such a campaign would incite domestic terrorism and uproot local communities. Residents who left their homes during the South Waziristan offensive more than a year ago have only recently been allowed to begin returning to their villages.
The real power broker
Pakistani democracy activists fault the United States for professing to support Pakistan's civilian government while at the same time bolstering Kayani with frequent high-level visits and giving him a prominent role in strategic talks with Islamabad.
Obama administration officials said in response that while they voice support for Pakistan's weak civilian government at every opportunity, the reality is that the army chief is the one who can produce results.
"We have this policy objective, so who do we talk to?" one official said. "It's increasingly clear that we have to talk to Kayani."
Most of the talking is done by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In more than 30 face-to-face meetings with Kayani, including 21 visits to Pakistan since late 2007, Mullen has sought to reverse what both sides call a "trust deficit" between the two militaries.
But the patience of other U.S. officials has worn thin. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, has adopted a much tougher attitude toward Kayani than his predecessor, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, had, according to several U.S. officials.
For his part, Kayani complains that he is "always asking Petraeus what is the strategic objective" in Afghanistan, according to a friend, retired air marshal Shahzad Chaudhry.
As the Obama administration struggles to assess the fruits of its investment in Pakistan, some officials said the United States now accepts that pleas and military assistance will not change Kayani's thinking. Mullen and Richard C. Holbrooke, who served as the administration's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan until his death last month, thought that "getting Kayani to trust us enough" to be honest constituted progress, one official said.
But what Kayani has honestly told them, the official said, is: "I don't trust you."