The speech may have lasted just three minutes, but it spoke volumes about where power lies in Pakistan. Late on Thursday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani suddenly appeared on national television to address the country. Pakistan is passing through a critical phase, he said, reading intently from a script on his desk and stealing only furtive glances at the camera in front of him. He praised the Pakistani army for its successes in military operations against Islamist militants and singled out its commander, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, for his "excellent military leadership qualities and pro-democracy views." For those reasons, Gilani said, despite the fact that Kayani's term in command of the army was about to expire, Pakistan's civilian government had decided to keep him on for another three years.
There was little enthusiasm in the Prime Minister's voice. It had been widely expected that Kayani would be granted an extension if he sought one, because the civilian government is too unpopular and too weak to resist a powerful army chief's whims. But what did surprise many was the length of the extension: Kayani had been due to retire this November; now, underscoring the military's enduring clout, he will remain in his post until 2013, establishing himself as the most powerful man in the country.