General Kayani Stays

Pakistani army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani takes his seat for the official oath-taking ceremony of new prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gillani, at the Presidency on March 25, 2008, in Islamabad, Pakistan. This month, Kayani has been granted a three-year extension as Army Chief by Gillani. (Photo Warrick Page/Getty Images)

In a timely though perhaps surprising move, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced on July 23 the extension of army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's term for another three years. Kayani, who was set to retire this November, accepted his extended tenure as army chief.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for a civilian government in Pakistan to extend an Army Chief's term of office.

Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Hassan Abbas said, "I can say that the decision to grant another three-year term to General Kayani is unprecedented and the issues are being hotly debated in Pakistani media. It is dubbed as a good development for (Pakistan's) democracy, as it might provide stability, and a potentially damaging one for army as an institution, as it blocks promotions for senior officers, creating frustration."

Gilani, who stated that the move was to ensure the continuity of counterinsurgency operations in Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan, described Kayani as "pro-democracy" and attributed the success of military operations in Pakistan's northern regions to the army chief's leadership. That the Pakistani prime minister televised his address to the nation is both rare and significant. Gilani's use of national television and the wording of his speech accord Kayani almost equal stature to the country's elected civilian leadership.

Questions remain as to whether Kayani would continue to follow President Barack Obama, if elected, into his second term.

"In my personal assessment Kayani is an intelligent and popular commander and may opt to retire before his second term finishes in 2013," Abbas said.

Related video:
Hassan Abbas on Making Sense of Pakistan