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Pressure mounts on Pakistan's army chief after bin Laden killing

Gen Kayani's popularity has plummeted since the raid by US forces, and he has faced tough questions at army bases across the country.

Supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League holding a picture of army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Karachi. Shakil Adil / AP Photo
Supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League holding a picture of army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Karachi. Shakil Adil / AP Photo

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's army chief will keep his position after the Osama bin Laden killing despite reports that he is clinging to power, analysts in Pakistan said yesterday.

Citing mostly US officials, The New York Times and the Washington Post portrayed Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani as beleaguered and on the defensive because of pressure from the Pakistani government and the US in reports published yesterday.

They also reported that he was under the threat of an imminent coup. However, Pakistan's army has traditionally had a strong chain of command. There has never been a successful coup against any army chief though the army has managed to topple civilian governments in several bloodless coups.

"General Kayani is weakened but not threatened," said Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general and military analyst based in Islamabad.

"I think there is no doubt that there is frustration and anguish in the army", he said. "It is facing a lot of pressures both from within and outside the country."

"General Kayani is conscious of the anguish and frustration and the stresses, both psychological and physical, on the troops. That is why, in these circumstances, he is visiting different garrisons around the country in an attempt to remove the feeling of despondency," General Masood said.

This is not to suggest that the army chief, considered the most powerful man in the country, is having it easy since US Navy Seals killed bin Laden.

General Kayani and the Pakistani government were blindsided when the US troops stormed the al Qa'eda leader's Abbottabad compound and shot him dead on May 2.

General Kayani's popularity has plummeted as a result and he has faced tough questions from his troops during recent visits to army bases across the country in an attempt to boost morale.

While acknowledging that he felt hurt and betrayed by the bin Laden raid, General Kayani tried to assuage angry officers by telling them that defying the US would result in dire consequences for the army.

All the same, General Kayani has been forced to take a tougher position towards visiting US officials.

Pakistani intelligence services have started moving against CIA agents and informants in the country and the US has been forced to significantly reduce the number of its military officials who were stationed in Pakistan.

Pakistan and US have a complicated history and the relationship between the two countries has been based on mutual needs and short-term goals.

General Masood said the rank and file of the Pakistani military was upset with the way Americans had unilaterally acted to kill bin Laden. And, therefore, there was no possibility of a coup against the army chief.

"The anger in the troops is directed towards the American arrogance and not at the army chief", he said.

A serving army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also berated the US approach towards Pakistan.

"It is very hard to recover after trust is broken. Americans have proved that they don't trust us. We cannot trust them either."

Ejaz Haider, another prominent columnist and political analyst, said that the raid had severely damaged the relations between the two countries, and their respective security apparatus.

"It has angered the Pakistani army from top to bottom," Mr Haider, who is based in the eastern city of Lahore, said.

Mr Haider said the Pakistani army were justified in their anger with the Americans.

"They realise that Americans, in order to do something for their domestic consumption, decided to cut Pakistan loose."

"Americans have made it clear that they want to operate on their own and will make a monkey out of the Pakistan army whenever they want to."

The reaction of the Pakistani army is seen as legitimate and predictable, Mr Haider said while adding that no country can allow any other country to indulge in spy activities on its soil.

Mr Haider said the Pakistani army was built on the British army traditions and the word of the commander was taken as the final decision. "While the commander is the final authority, he takes cognisance of what his troops and officers are saying.

The commander does have better access to information and can look at the bigger picture but this doesn't mean that he can remain oblivious to what his troops feel and say", Mr Haider said of the military leadership.