Islamabad: Pakistan's powerful army chief Raheel Sharif began a round of farewell visits on Monday, his spokesman said, damping speculation he might receive an extension when his three-year term ends this month.
- Powerful army chiefs 3-year-term ends later this month
- He has been very popular with the public
- 4 contenders as his successor being examined by PM Sharif
The general has been immensely popular among ordinary Pakistanis, who see him as having effectively tackled crime and corruption, besides carrying the fight against Islamist terrorism to unstable tribal areas.
Sharif, who is due to retire on Nov. 29, had never said he would seek an extension, but speculation of such a move has recently been rife in the media and among politicians.
"Army chief kicks off his farewell visits beginning from Lahore today," military spokesman Lieutenant-General Asim Bajwa said on social network Twitter, adding that Sharif would meet soldiers on the visits.
Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif has until Novermber 28 to name his choice of a replacement for the retiring army chief. Typically, the military provides the Prime Minister the dossiers of three or four contenders from which to choose.
Contenders this year include Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal Ramday, Lieutenant General Zubair Hayat, Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad and Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa, three of the Prime Minister's aides said in September, according to news agency Reuters.
The army has ruled Pakistan for roughly half its 69-year history, and tension with civilian governments - including that of Mr Sharif - often runs high.
He himself was ousted from power in 1999 by a military coup. Pakistan's last two army chiefs, including Pervez Musharraf, who led the coup against Mr Sharif, were both given extensions.
The succession will also be closely watched overseas.
India and Pakistan are in the midst of the worst tension in over a decade with a ceasefire declared in 2003 along the Line of Control in Kashmir now virtually discarded. Cross-border shelling and fire are a daily feature in Jammu and Kashmir.
In September, India sent its soldiers into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir to target staging areas for terrorists in direct military response to the attack on a base in Uri where 19 soldiers had been killed just days earlier.
The Kashmir Valley witnessed months of unrest, which India accused Pakistan of inciting and funding, after the shooting by security forces of 22-year-old terrorist Burhan WAni, who had used social media to emerge as a popular local icon. At least 90 people died and more than 12,000 were injured in the huge protests that followed his death.