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Pakistan braces as government prepares to replace top general

Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 10.31.57 AM
(Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Islamabad in 2008. John Moore/Getty Images)

Haroon Aslam may be poised to become the most important man in Pakistan.

In November, recently elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will appoint a successor to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani as head of the nuclear-armed country's military and Aslam is among the contenders for the high-profile job.

It's long been accepted that the head of the military is the most powerful position in Pakistan, a fact Sharif knows well. A year after Sharif was elected prime minister in 1997, he faced a similar decision and chose Gen. Pervez Musharraf to lead the military in the country of 180 million.

Within a year, in October 1999, Musharraf orchestrated a coup, put Sharif in prison, and later exiled him to Saudi Arabia.

Musharraf went on to run the country for nine years and his seizure of power was one of three successful coups Pakistan has endured since partition. (Three other coups, in 1949, 1980 and 1995 failed but serve as a reminder of how intertwined Pakistani politics and its military have become.)

According to a new report on Tactstrat.com, a website that scrutinizes security issues in South Asia, Aslam is the most senior Lieutenant General serving in the Pakistani army, and would seem be a favourite to succeed Kayani.

Gen. Kayani has been a pivotal figure in Pakistani politics.

After former Prime Minister Asif Zardari temporarily sacked Pakistan's chief justice, many analysts wondered whether Kayani, former head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, would seize power.

Earlier this year, there was more speculation that Kayani might conspire to replace Zardari with Tahir ul Qadri, a cleric who returned to Pakistan from Canada and called for a "revolution" against a government that has failed to boost employment and stop widespread power outages across the country.

But Kayani has been content to ruled from the sidelines and has dismissed the notion that he might accept any more extensions when his six-year tenure as army chief ends in November.

Here's what we know about Aslam: he is a commando who joined the Azad Kashmir Regiment in 1975.

"Lt Gen Aslam enjoys a good professional reputation in the army," Tacstrat.com reports, adding the general "was amongst the first group of soldiers to land at the highest battle ground of Swat amidst heavy gunfire from militants. Leading from the front, Gen Aslam and his commandoes managed to regain control of Taliban strong hold of Peochar in Swat after battles which could serve as lesson in world’s military history in high altitude mountain warfare."

Gen. Kayani's successor will be a hotly discussed topic in miltiary circles, both in South Asia and the west alike, in coming months.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead




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