Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s announcement that he will retire in November 2016 and not seek an extension has received a mixed response and triggered speculation on who will replace him in what is seen as the country’s most powerful post.
The announcement, made on Monday afternoon, came as a surprise but at the same time laid to rest speculation that Sharif would continue to serve as the army chief beyond November, when he is due to retire. In a statement, Sharif said he preferred to relinquish the job, unlike his two immediate predecessors.
“I do not believe in extension and will retire on the due date,” said Sharif, who will be the first army chief since 1998 to hang up his uniform after a three-year tenure.
Amid speculation about Sharif’s successor, The News daily reported that the five lieutenant generals who would be the most senior commanders at the time of the army chief’s retirement are Maqsood Ahmad, Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Syed Wajid Hussain, Najib Ullah Khan and Ishfaq Nadeem.
Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the government welcomed the announcement as it put to rest “certain rumours” that were circulating in Islamabad. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan added Sharif had set a good precedent by declaring his intention to step down at the end of his tenure.
Former president Asif Zardari, who gave an extension to Sharif’s predecessor Gen Ashfaq Kayani, joined the chorus of approval.
But the business community gave a thumbs-down to the decision. Karachi Chamber of Commerce president Iftikhar Vohra, who led a 2015 campaign in which banners and billboards appeared all over the port city thanking the army chief for bringing peace to the city, said this was “bad news” for the business community.
“Gen Raheel Sharif helped nab criminals that were being patronised by politicians,” said Vohra. “Now, we feel the criminals will once again resume their activities.”
Vohra said it was Sharif who started a military operation in Karachi that led to a drop in criminal activity, especially the extortion racket.
A senior member of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce, Siraj Telli, said he would start a movement to make Sharif change his mind. “We need a leader like him. I will petition in front of the PM House if needed.”
Media analyst Adnan Rehmat said what was surprising in Pakistan was the fact that the army chief deciding to leave after completing his tenure made such big news. “This tells you where the military stands in the state of affairs of the country.”