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Raheel Sharif started his farewell visits

22 November, 2016

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Gen Raheel Sharif has kicked off his farewell visits nearly a week before he is expected to retire as Chief of Army Staff, DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asim Bajwa announced.

The army chief began his visits on Monday at the Lahore Garrison where he addressed and thanked a huge gathering of soldiers of Pakistan Army and Rangers.

Addressing the soldiers, Gen Raheel said accomplishment of peace and stability was "no ordinary task". "Our sacrifices and joint national resolve helped us in off-setting all odds against [the] country."

The army spokesman had in January rubbished rumours regarding an extension in Gen Sharif's tenure as Chief of Army Staff, quoting the army chief as saying he will "retire on the due date" in November this year.

Speculation had been rife regarding an extension in the COAS' term after former military ruler Musharraf called for an extension in his tenure, warning against a change in the military leadership.

The post of Army chief is inarguably the most powerful in Pakistan. On Nov 27, 2013, the government approved Sharif’s appointment for the post, a position that he took over from Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who stepped down on Nov 29, 2013.

Gen Sharif is expected to pass on the baton of command of the army to the next army chief at a ceremony by the end of this month.

He would be the first army chief to retire on time in two decades. His predecessors Gen Kayani and Gen Pervez Musharraf got extensions, while Gen Jehangir Karamat was sent home prematurely.

Going by the book, it is the senior most three-star general who would become the next chief. But this rule is seldom observed. Even when Gen Sharif became the army chief he was third on the seniority list.

A panel of three general officers is sent to the prime minister by the defence ministry, but it is his (PM’s) discretion to appoint anyone whom he thinks is most suited for the job.

The next four in line are: Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed (currently on deputation with the UN), Lt Gen Zubair Mehmood Hayat (Chief of General Staff), Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain (HIT Taxila) and Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem (Corps Commander Multan).

The race is wide open but some defence analysts are of the opinion that Gen Hayat and Gen Nadeem are among the front-runners.

Back in 2013 when Gen Kayani announced that he would not take an extension for a second time, Gen Sharif was not among the favourites in the race for army chief. Even after he beat all the odds to become the chief, his detractors continued to doubt him saying he lacked intelligence and operations background.

But he did not allow those shortcomings to become a handicap and proved everyone wrong.

The high point in his tenure was the start of Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in June 2014, something from which his predecessor shied away fearing blowback. The operation is now in its last stages. He is also credited for action against militancy in Karachi and partially restoring calm in the city.

Gen Sharif has all along been supportive of the government, except for a statement at the corps commanders’ conference last November when he expressed reservations over civilian administration’s governance. The comment presented the spectacle of a row between the civilian and military leadership. He has, nevertheless, maintained strong influence over the government’s foreign and national security policies.

The general garnered unprecedented popularity among the general public and on social media.

Earlier this year, mysterious banners calling on Gen Sharif to "take over" the government popped up in various cities across the country. Most recently, banners were spotted in Rawalpindi which urged him to contest the general elections in 2018. The army denied having any connection to the banners.

Raheel Sharif was born in Quetta on June 16, 1956 to Major and Mrs Muhammad Sharif, Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif grew up steeped in the military tradition.

He attained his formal education at Government College Lahore and later went on to attend the Pakistan Military Academy.

As a young officer, he performed his duties in Gilgit in an infantry brigade and also served as adjutant of Pakistan Military Academy. Over the years, Sharif climbed up the military ladder mentored by Musharraf who handed him command of the 11th Infantry Division in Lahore.

He was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, the second highest civilian award and honour that is given to both civilians and military officers of the Pakistan armed forces.

Despite the common surname, Raheel Sharif is not related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but is known to be close to tribal affairs minister Lieutenant-General Abdul Qadir Baloch, a key confidante of the Sharif family. The general is married with two sons and a daughter.

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