Media Watch: Pakistan's Gen. Kiani Waiting in the Wings

January 17, 2008

Gen. Kiani, the new Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army is reputedly a quiet, professional soldier, who weighs his words carefully. Potentially, he could be Washington’s new man in the frontline state of Pakistan. While it is still too soon to pass a verdict on him, we can examine some of his recent actions and follow more to come to see if he fits the bill.

He has recently passed an order forbidding contacts between serving army officers and politicians. Will the infamous ISI be exempt from this order is the key question. ISI is always headed by a serving officer and allegedly has files on every single politician, which it unabashedly has resorted to in the past to deliver calculated results.

By another order he is withdrawing acting servicemen seconded to the civilian administration in the past.

These two measures are seen as tentative but timely actions to ward off the criticism of the Army intrusion in civilians affairs. And are seen as belated, though positive steps in the right direction.

But on the day Major General Ahmad Shujaa Pasha, Director General of Military Operations claimed full success for the Army Operations in Swat, the Pakistani Talibans captured an Army outpost and dislodged the soldiers occupying the Saarogha Fort in Wana, South Waziristan, a Mehsud Tribe stronghold.

As a media watcher, it is interesting to see how this news was played locally and internationally. Here is a sampling of this news coverage:

Daily News: Seven troops, 40 militants killed in South Waziristan
Dawn: Dozens dead as Islamists capture Pakistan fort
The Frontier Post: 7 soldiers. 40 attackers killed in SWA (South Waziristan) clash
BBC: Militants overrun Pakistan fort
Al Jazeera: Pakistan security camp attacked
CBC: Militants overrun Military Base in Pakistan 
Reuters: Militants capture Pakistani fort, 47 dead
ToI: 30 Pak troops killed as militants capture fort in Waziristan
The Hindu: Taliban captures Pakistan fort

The significant thing to note is this attack happened in the strong hold of Baitullah Mahsud. He is the same Taliban leader with alleged Al Qaeda links, cited in issuing suicide bombing threats against Pakistani military men and politicians.

Saarogha Fort is one of the four forts in the Mehsud Tribal region. And with over 100,000 troops (some allege acting as mercenaries for the US interests) the army has more than pie on its face.

This is seen as a major set back for the tough Gen. Kiani. It would be interesting to see how he responds to this humiliation.

Those who support the beleaguered Musharraf Administration, a dwindling number since March 09, 2007, say the Army front man is still in full control of the situation and playing both the internal and external politics craftily. To get through the Muharram and pre election jitters he has created the “Ata” (flour) crisis, which would be resolved just in time for the elections on February 18, 2007. He and his aides are still talking with the major players, to keep all options open.

And then there are those who increasingly say Musharraf has to go because he has been bumbling from one mess to another uncontrollably. They cite a long list to back up their assertions: the reference against the SC judge, the Lal Musjid (belated) actions, the inability to extend the federal writ in NWFP, the rise in parochial and ethnic fundamentalism, lawlessness in the aftermath of Bhutto assasination, rising civilian toll from suicide bombings.

This is where General Kiani comes into the picture. If Musharraf fades, the spotlight will shine on Gen. Kiani. There is no other constitutional or effective remedy available.

And that is where his ability to re-exert Army control and usher in law and order over the divisive and defiant Talibans and other fundamentalists will be judged. At the same time  he will have to deal with the lawyers, students and politicians who have sensed blood and want results.

We should also examine the experiment in Bangladesh carefully. With the Army unpopularity in ascendancy he may deem to remain in the background and prefer to rule with civilian faces fronting for him.

After calling for elections, and transferring power to a caretaker government, the two former PMs are entangled in judicial cases and are languishing in jails. The "caretakers" have full military backup. And are postponing the elections till they (or the military) are assured of a predictable results.

If not Musharraf, will Kiani be accepted by the West and more importantly by the restive Pakistanis behind a 'civilian' caretaker front that will govern until the promised elections are delivered?

Or will things head for a different direction - a coalition government comprising of all major political players sans Musharraf that will bicker and fail to agree on any decisions? This will result in the Army to play the divide-and-rule game that they have learned to excel at.

Politics in Pakistan resembles a hockey game played by blind and deaf players who think of themselves as nothing but visionaries.

love people who are in awe of words. words are the sole arbiter and the final survivor. desicritic editor, slave and slave-driver.
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January 17, 2008
03:12 AM
Ruvy in Jerusalem
January 17, 2008
05:07 AM


Interesting article. This may seem a bit off topic, but until the Bhutto assassination, regular reports of bird flu were coming out of the Northwest Frontier. Since the riots following the Bhutto assassination, there has been silence on the subject. Even my contact in Pakistan has been absolutely silent.

Any news on the bird flue from Pakistan?

January 17, 2008
01:32 PM

Ruvy, excellent question! Commonsense tells me that after the assassination of Bhutto, there was a lot of dhamaka (explosions; gunfire etc.). Needless to say, all the birds flew out of Pakistan.

(Ok, this is a silly joke, but what to do? The only way I could approach your long pieces about the revealed truth was with an open mind. However my mind was so open that small chunks of my so-called brain fell out. So now I'm reduced to this sad spectacle...)

January 17, 2008
01:46 PM


if you subscribe to yahoo desicritics group i sent a mail under 'worth covering'some days back...

it dealt with the latest reports of bird flu in the region...which was east of bengal...about as far from the north west of pakistan as you can get

and HERE is the latest follow up

and there is also a minor flare up in UAE

hope this helps:)

January 17, 2008
01:47 PM




January 17, 2008
01:51 PM


Correction: I meant "all the birds flu out of Pakistan".

Ruvy in Jerusalem
January 18, 2008
08:56 AM

Thanks, Temporal. By the way what number does a lakh stand for?

January 19, 2008
05:10 PM


a lakh is 100,000

and a crore is 10,000,000

incidentally a 1,000,000,000 is called a arab


January 19, 2008
05:12 PM

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Pakistani security agents have arrested a youth who said he had been trained as a suicide bomber to kill opposition leader Benazir Bhutto had other militants failed to kill her, in the first arrests in the case, a security official said.

The 15-year-old and his militant "handler" were arrested in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan on Thursday night.

The teenager, identified as Aitezaz Shah, told interrogators he would have been "next in line" to kill Bhutto if another team had failed on Dec. 27, the security official said on Saturday.


January 19, 2008
05:31 PM

Temporal to Ruvy:

incidentally a 1,000,000,000 is called a arab


Thanks for letting him know!!

January 19, 2008
07:27 PM

CS, Temp: Kyun bechare ko pareshaan kar rahe ho? Waise bhi use apne bhagwan/quom/mulk ke aage kuch nahin dikhta aur dekho kaisi museebat hai ke teeno ek hi hain - isse kahte hain holy trinity. :-)

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