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Pakistan's Army Chief Retires, But Who Comes Next?

Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ended speculation regarding his future as he announced his retirement yesterday, surprising many and relieving some. The New York Times reports:

The announcement was significant because it paves the way for the appointment of a new army chief — always a delicate matter in a country that has suffered four military coups — at a time when Pakistan’s military is playing a central role in dealings with Taliban insurgents in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistani and Western media outlets speculated in recent days that General Kayani’s military service could be extended, possibly by moving him to a new role in which he would have oversight of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Kayani, who has cultivated the persona of a secretive, reflective man, has largely kept the military out of Pakistani politics. He has also been clear, unlike some Pakistani politicians (Imran Khan, we’re looking at you), about the threat the Taliban poses Pakistan’s security and stability, referring to them as Pakistan’s biggest threat.

Prior to Kayani’s announcement, the Pakistan rumor mill had floated all sorts of post-military possibilities for the General, including a stint as Ambassador to the US. The potential involvement of a military man in a civilian role had given many democracy proponents, including journalists and politicians, the jitters. The military has a history of overextending its role in Pakistani politics, so Kayani’s orderly departure is being broadly welcomed.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may now seem to have a weighty decision ahead of him on who should fill the vacated slot, but the choice is actually less consequential than it seems: he can pick between three generals nominated by the military itself for Kayani’s old position. “Institutions and traditions are stronger than individuals,” Kayani himself was fond of saying. When it comes to Pakistan’s military, this fact reigns supreme.

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