Pakistan's Army Chief Key To U.S. Plans In Region Within the next few weeks, the Obama administration will unveil its new strategy — and goals — for Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of the central figures in that strategy is Pakistan's army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who has been meeting with U.S. officials this week in Washington.
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Pakistan's Army Chief Key To U.S. Plans In Region

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Pakistan's Army Chief Key To U.S. Plans In Region

Pakistan's Army Chief Key To U.S. Plans In Region

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Pakistani general that Senator Kerry referred to is Ashfaq Kayani. He's the army's chief of staff and he's central to the new strategy the Obama administration is developing for Pakistan and Afghanistan. NPR's Jackie Northam has this look at who he is and why he matters.

JACKIE NORTHAM: When General Ashfaq Kayani assumed the position as Pakistan's army chief of staff during a colorful ceremony just over a year ago, there was a collective sigh of relief both in Pakistan and in the U.S. Kayani replaced General Pervez Musharraf, who also served as president. Musharraf stepped down under pressure and in disgrace after eight years of rule.

Kayani was quickly met with high praise from U.S. officials. The chain-smoking, stern-faced Kayani is eloquent, enjoys a round of golf, and he also studied at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Mr. SHUJA NAWAZ (Atlantic Council): I think the United States went a little overboard in trying to project him as Western-oriented, Western-educated, Western-trained.

NORTHAM: Shuja Nawaz is with the Atlantic Council and is one of very few people who has interviewed Kanyani. He says even though the general is seen as liking the U.S., his primary loyalties lie with Pakistan.

Mr. NAWAZ: The reality of the situation is in Pakistan that the army chief decides what's in the army and the country's national interest, and not necessarily in the interest of partner nations, even if they are such major superpowers as the United States.

NORTHAM: When Kayani took control of the 600,000-strong army, he essentially became the most powerful man in Pakistan, because the army controls foreign policy, much of the economy, and it was the army that decided that Pakistan would become a nuclear-armed state.

Kayani was also head of Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, which has had long links with the Taliban. Pakistani author and journalist Ahmed Rashid says during that time Kayani worked closely with senior CIA and Pentagon officials.

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Author): So he knows a great deal of the whole covert war, where all the bodies are buried, as it were, what the extent of the relationship with the - not just the American military but with the American CIA has been and is right now. So I mean he's very, very much, you know, on the ball as far as the war on terror is concerned.

NORTHAM: Relations with Pakistan's military, certainly with its army chief, are critical to U.S. national security concerns because of a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaida along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. The U.S. has been pushing Pakistan hard to take on the Islamist militants.

Seth Jones with the Rand Corporation says Pakistan has launched offensives in some regions and has coordinated with the U.S. in dozens of missile strikes from unmanned drones. But, Jones says, Pakistan is reluctant to take on some militant groups, which has become a common point of friction between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Mr. SETH JONES (Rand Corporation): Pakistan is primarily interested, as one might expect, in targeting groups that threaten the Pakistani state. The United States is interested in targeting groups that threaten the Afghan state. There is overlap in some of these areas, but there aren't in others.

NORTHAM: But Jones says Pakistan has allowed the U.S. to train the paramilitary Frontier Corps in counterinsurgency techniques. The U.S. wants this training broadly extended to Pakistan's regular army and it may have some leverage when Kayani meets with Pentagon and administration officials this week to ask for helicopters, drones and other equipment. But Kayani has to be careful to be seen in Pakistan — where anti-Americanism is rife — as striking the right balance between helping fight Islamist extremism but not bowing to U.S. pressure, says Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): The minute we create the image that any figure is not serving the interest of his own country and his own people, we fatally undercut that person and we also undercut our own interests by basically weakening the people we need most.

NORTHAM: Nonetheless, Kayani is being given a warm reception here in the U.S., which includes a return visit to Fort Leavenworth.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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