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Pakistani Army Chief's Extension Elicits Mixed Reaction

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani (right) talks with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani during the third phase of Pakistan's biggest-ever army field exercise in April.
Pakistani defense and political analysts interviewed by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal have expressed differing views over a service extension granted to the country's chief of army staff.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani's extension on state television late on July 22. Kayani's term was extended by three years until 2013.

Kayani is only the second top military official in Pakistan's history to have his service period extended by an elected civilian government.

Speaking to journalists in Islamabad on July 23, Gilani defended the extension.

"The term of prime minister is until 2013, the term of president is also until 2013, the chief justice will also stay in his seat through that period, and we also extended the service of the chief of army staff through that period," Gilani said.

Commenting on Kayani's extension, defense analyst Ayesha Siddia told RFE/RL indicated that the military needed to keep Kayani to maintain stability. She said if the army was a strong institution not beholden to one personality, then some other officer would have been able to replace him as chief of staff.

Analyst Sohail Waraich said the extension was unwise given Pakistan's history of generals overstepping their assigned duties. He said Pakistan's biggest problem has been the interference of the military establishment in the country's democratic politics.

But defense analyst Ikram Sehgal hailed the decision. He said Kayani had boosted the morale of the army, stood up to foreign pressure, and successfully carried out the war against terrorism and the Taliban.

Political analyst Shafqat Mahmood expressed similar views. He pointed out that Kayani could have used several opportunities in the past two and half years to overthrow Pakistan's elected government if he had wanted to, but he did not.

Kayani replaced General Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan's army chief of staff in 2007. Kayani had previously been chief of Pakistan's top intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence and the director general of military operations.