Pakistan's powerful Army Chief Gen Ashraf Parvez Kayani will not be given an extension after his tenure ends in November, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar has said, amidst speculation that the General may be upgraded to the post of Chief of Defence Staff.
Mukhtar, a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party and a close confidant of President Asif Ali, told reporters in Lahore yesterday that the government would not give Kayani an extension when he completed his tenure in November this year.
Mukhtar also said Kayani had not sought an extension from the government.
The Defence Minister's comments were the first categorical remarks from the PPP top brass on the issue of an extension for Kayani – a topic that has been the subject of speculation in Islamabad's political circles in recent weeks.
During his recent interactions with the media, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has parried all questions about granting an extension in service to Kayani.
Gilani also dismissed reports about differences between him and the presidency on this issue and said the government will make a decision on the matter "when the time comes".
Gilani has often described Kayani, who became army chief when former military ruler Pervez Musharraf quit the post in November 2007 – as "pro-democracy and a highly professional person".
Some security experts have suggested that Kayani, who was handpicked by former President Pervez Musharraf to lead the Pakistan Army when he quit as Army Chief in 2007, should be given an extension for his role in distancing the army from politics and in the campaigns against the Taliban in the country's northwest and volatile tribal belt.
Sources told PTI that the PPP-led government was toying with the idea of creating the new post of Chief of Defence Staff in order to give Kayani a key role in the defence establishment after he retires as army chief.
Along with taking several steps to boost the morale of the army, which was battered during Musharraf's regime, Kayani withdrew army officers from civilian departments and barred them from interacting with politicians.