ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday appointed former intelligence chief Ashfaq Kiyani to be his successor as army chief, the military said.
Musharraf, a key US ally in the “war on terror”, has said he will step down as head of the powerful army by November 15, provided that he is re-elected as president in a vote on Saturday.
“Lieutenant General Ashfaq Kiyani has been appointed the chief of army staff-designate,” top military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP, without saying when he would take up the role.
Musharraf has been under growing international and domestic pressure to give up his military role, which he has kept since he grabbed power in a bloodless coup on October 12, 1999.
Opposition grew after Musharraf tried to sack the country’s independent-minded chief justice in March, a move that sparked mass protests and growing anger against the army for its interference in politics.
But analysts say Musharraf was keen to appoint a loyalist as his army successor to ensure that he himself does not fall victim to military intervention when he becomes a civilian leader.
Kiyani appears to fit the bill as a former the head of the country’s premier spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence, or ISI, which is engaged in the hunt for Al-Qaeda militants as well as providing internal security.
He was replaced in that role on September 21 by Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj in a batch of promotions.
“President Musharraf has made a very correct choice as a successor in Kiyani,” retired general-turned-political analyst Talat Masood told AFP.
“He will be a healer in the civil-military divide which exists today,” Masood said.
“This will also help reduce the uncertainty surrounding Musharraf’s announcement to shed his uniform and pacify those forces which were still sceptical that he would retain his army role.”
Musharraf announced in September that he would quit the army if he was re-elected and be sworn in as a civilian, but he has still not announced the date when he expects to do so.
He has until now argued that he needed to be in control of the army to oversee Pakistan’s continuing fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels holed up in the country’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Musharraf put Kiyani personally in charge of the investigation after two assassination attempts on his life in December 2003, incidents in which both Al-Qaeda and rogue members of the armed forces were implicated.
In his autobiography, “In the Line of Fire”, Musharraf praised Kiyani’s ability to get Pakistan’s often fractious intelligence agencies to pull together.
“When Kiyani got tough, the problems of coordination disappeared and the agencies started working like a well-oiled machine,” Musharraf recalled.
Pakistan has been ruled by army generals for more than half its existence since independence in Britain in 1947.