Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s core team has advised him to grant a three-year extension to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif who is retiring in November, official sources told Daily Times. Publically, the government has been claiming that neither has the COAS sought an extension, nor did the government gave it serious thought, as he still had more than four months to serve.
In January, the armed forces officially denied that the COAS had any intent to serve beyond his tenure expiring in November. Going by this scenario, Gen Raheel Sharif would be the only COAS in the past two decades who would retire at the culmination of his term. The two predecessors of the COAS, Gen Kiyani and Gen Musharraf, had taken extensions under different contexts and circumstances. In a couple of tweets on January 25, military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa had quoted the COAS while denying the speculations about the extension. “Pakistan Army is a great institution. I don’t believe in extensions and will retire on the due date. Efforts to root out terrorism will continue with full vigour and resolve. Pakistan’s national interest is supreme and will be safe guarded at all costs,” Gen Bajwa then quoted the COAS as saying.
Official sources said the prime minister was almost convinced to retain Gen Raheel Sharif in exchange for certain guarantees which would help him win next general elections. And, therefore, the prime minister has not yet discussed the names of his potential successors with his close aides.
Sources said some very influential people raised the matter of Gen Raheel Sharif’s extension, at least three times before the prime minister. They argued Gen Raheel Sharif would not refuse an extension if the prime minister asked him to continue. A few senior federal ministers think the COAS would like to continue, but would not prefer to be seen as someone interested in continuing beyond his original term.
Recently, a little-known political party placed banners in 13 major cities beseeching the COAS to take over. It resulted in huge media hype and compelled the military spokesman to say that the campaign had nothing to do with the armed forces in any way.
He tweeted: “Reference Posters with #COAS pic being displayed across various cities; Army or any affiliated organisation have nothing to do with it.”
Information minister Pervez Rashid also jumped in saying those who were urging the COAS to take over were fools. “Such people are fools and not well-wishers of the country,” he commented.
Meanwhile, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan of the People’s Party termed it a ploy to divert attention from other critical issues. “The banners are a ploy by the government to pressurise the opposition. It’s an attempt to create uncertainty,” he remarked.
In a recent interview, former US presidential nominee Senator John McCain hoped that Gen Raheel Sharif would continue to serve his country in these very difficult times. The statement created the impression that the American administration wanted him to continue beyond November 2016.