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Pakistan army chief gets extension in office
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday extended the term of country's powerful army chief by three years in order to ensure continuity in the fight against Islamist militancy.
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally and its military's help is crucial for Washington's efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan.
Under General Ashfaq Kayani's command, the Pakistan military has launched major offensives against militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwestern border regions with Afghanistan over the past year.
Kayani, who is believed to have a good rapport with American military officials, was due to retire in November after the completion of his three-year term in office.
Gilani said he extended Kayani's term in recognition of his services in the fight against Islamist militants.
"In the best interest of the country, I as prime minister have decided to extend the term of General Kayani by three years from November 29," Gilani said in a televised address.
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"We are confident that under the leadership of General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani the war against terrorism will be taken to its conclusion."
Kayani, a former head of the country's premier Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, was appointed army chief in November 2007 by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
In March, Gilani also gave an extension of one year in office to Kayani's close confidante, Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, as head of ISI.
Gilani said military operations under the command of Kayani had "entered a very important phase".
"It is important to maintain continuity in the military leadership to ensure success of these operations," he added.
The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 63 years of existence and has maintained a dominant role in foreign and security policies in the country even when under civilian rule.
Analysts said Gilani's decision was not unexpected at a time when his government was facing a growing threat from militants who have extended their wars from lawless border regions with Afghanistan to towns and cities across the country.
"Kayani is the first army chief in the history of Pakistan who is getting an extension from a civilian government. It's an extraordinary decision in an extraordinary situation," security analyst and a retired army brigadier, Mehmood Shah, said.
Kayani is largely seen as an apolitical army man.
However, he played a behind-the-scenes role to help the civilian government avert possible political unrest in 2009 triggered by opposition protests for the restoration of judges ousted by Musharraf.
Gilani praised Kayani for his support for civilian rule in the country. "He has always emphasised that democracy is indispensable for peace and progress of Pakistan."
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
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