The Pakistan Army has never faced such multiple challenges, all equally daunting, to its image, credibility, doctrine, and its omnipresence in Pakistani society. For most of the country's 60 years of existence, the army has, by and large, remained a final arbiter of its destiny. Today, it faces the dilemma of change triggered by events largely of its own making, particularly that of its previous chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The problem was not in Musharraf's courage, determination and intention to put his country on the global map as a progressive Muslim country. Vision and humility were not his forte. He was trapped between two stools - the chief of the army staff and a personal vision of a 'saviour'. It was not surprising that he blundered miserably along the way, meddling heavily in politics, gambling with jihadis and playing poker with Washington, dragging the army and Pakistan in the process, on a path of self-destruction.
Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani can resolve Musharraf's (and Pakistan's) dilemma. Kiyani has never been in the charmed circle of Musharraf. He was a rank outsider who moved in close to the boss by a quirk of fate and a generous push from Washington. Kiyani by any stretch of imagination is not a political novice; he was deputy military secretary to Benazir Bhutto during her first stint as prime minister; he was involved in negotiating a political pact with Benazir on behalf of Musharraf and, way back as general officer commanding the Rawalpindi Corps, was involved in running the political dispensation in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
No one, perhaps, is acutely conscious of the realisation that the Pakistan Army today faces a serious credibility crisis, perhaps graver than what it had endured after the ignominious surrender of honour, and territory, in 1971. Kiyani who was a young second lieutenant during the short war with India should be acutely aware of this public perception about the army. It was, therefore, not surprising that at the first opportunity, he minced no words in warning his corps commanders to steer away from politics.
At his first corps commanders' conference in early January, he told his senior officials, many of whom were Musharraf's appointees and confidants, to shun politics and concentrate on professional responsibilities. His declaration of 2008 as the Year of Soldier was not merely ceremonial; it was a clear signal of his thinking and divergence with his predecessor's style of functioning. To emphasise that he meant business, within days of the conference, Kiyani wrote a formal letter to his senior officers laying down the rules of the game in black and white. He said no officer should meet a political leader without his permission. Nor should any politician be invited to Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi. President Musharraf fell firmly within the prohibited list, an army spokesman clarified within days of the directives. This has the potential of creating a peculiar situation within the top hierarchy.
At least six key positions - the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the director general of military intelligence, the chief of staff at General Headquarters (GHQ), the director general of the strategic forces command and the commander of 111 Brigade - are held by Musharraf's loyalists and appointees and it would be but natural for them to keep their previous boss in the loop which was bound to cause serious issues of propriety sooner than later. Kiyani's only option would be to reshuffle these appointments to avoid a possible collapse of the chain of command.
Even so, like any other ex-general, Musharraf is bound to find himself excluded from the Rawalpindi GHQ in the months to come. Kiyani's order to shift the army's communication equipment from Army House in Rawalpindi to his residence leaves no doubt how the axis of power has shifted in Islamabad.
It is quite possible that Kiyani might upset Musharraf's political calculations in the just concluded elections. Kiyani would also need a political dispensation that is more amenable to the GHQ than the President House. This is critical for the army to restore its hold over the Nuclear Command Authority that Musharraf, soon after he doffed his uniform, usurped for the president with a constitution amendment.
Kiyani has thus indicated his line of thinking in no unclear terms in the first two months of takeover and it would not be surprising to witness a silent coup in the next few months with Kiyani re-asserting himself as head of the most powerful institution in Pakistan. It just might restore a sense of stability in the army, and in Pakistan.
(Wilson John is a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)