Wednesday, March 31, 2010

General Kayani steals the spotlight at Pakistani embassy party

Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani, who has had his own tensions with the military in the past, heaped praise on Kayani during his introductory remarks for Qureshi.

“He (Kayani) embodies the conviction of the Pakistani armed forces, not just to defend the frontiers of Pakistan but also to ensure the continuity of constitutional democratic rule in accordance with the aspirations of our people of Pakistan,” said Haqqani before Qureshi took the podium.

Since he has been in the United States, Kayani has had a busy schedule, meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, and other senior U.S. military officials.

Pakistan returned to full civilian rule with the 2008 resignation of President Pervez Musharraf, but the army has not given up its dominance of key security issues.

That showed on Tuesday night, when all eyes were on Kayani.

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