Pakistan military chief meets Sharif

The Washington Post

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who heads Pakistan’s powerful army and holds significant sway over civilian affairs, visited the incoming prime minister Saturday in what the military described as a show of support for stronger democracy and greater stability as the nation struggles with an economic meltdown and continued insurgent attacks.

Kayani met for more than three hours with Nawaz Sharif, the center-right conservative poised to take over as prime minister for an unprecedented third stint after securing a heavy mandate in May 11 parliamentary elections.

Both sides described the Lahore meeting as informal and cordial, but it was no mere social call. Analysts saw greater importance: Kayani visited Sharif even before the prime minister-in-waiting has been formally elected by Parliament and taken the oath of office.

The military said no other army chief has ever done that, but then Pakistan is entering a period of firsts — most significantly, a historic transition between elected governments.

“There are no rules for this because it’s never happened before,” Shuja Nawaz, who directs the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, said Sunday. “This will help the incoming administration get out of the blocks faster than expected.”

Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, characterized the meeting as a briefing on security matters and a “good omen for democracy.”