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PM under pressure on extension issue

By Ansar Abbasi
September 11, 2016

ISLAMABAD: After army chief General Raheel Sharif’s statement rejecting an extension, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also not inclined to do this but he is under pressure from certain quarters to extend the tenure of the COAS.

A credible source close to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told The News: “The prime minister has no intention to give an extension.” Asked if it’s a decision, the source said, “Yes, it’s a decision.”

The source said although the army chief had himself stated this categorically that he will not accept an extension, there is pressure on the prime minister to offer the same to General Raheel Sharif.

The source also dismissed the speculation of elevating General Raheel to the post of Field Marshal.

Asked as to who was exerting the pressure on the prime minister, the source said not only some influential leaders of the PML-N had repeatedly asked the prime minister to offer an extension to General Raheel but there were also some other “influentials” pressing for the same.

Most, if not all, of the federal ministers have no idea as yet what would be the decision of the prime minister on the issue of extension or about General Raheel’s replacement. Some of those approached said the answer to these questions is known only to the prime minister and no one else.

According to a federal minister, it is unlikely that Nawaz Sharif would share his decision with any cabinet member irrespective of his/her influence. However, a credible source close to the prime minister confided to this correspondent that Nawaz Sharif was neither keen on giving an extension nor considering elevation of the army chief to the post of Field Marshal.

While the country’s politics and the media continue to be focused on the question if General Raheel will be allowed to retire or given an extension in any form, some retired generals have been insisting that General Raheel will not accept such an offer.

Rejecting the speculation about his possible extension, General Raheel had referred to the Pakistan Army as a “Great Institution”.

Many believe that after two successive army chiefs — General Musharraf and General Kayani — getting extensions, extending the tenure of the third army chief in a row would undermine the institution of the Pakistan Army. It will set a bad precedent, which would make every future army chief expecting an extension from the rulers.

However, despite General Raheel’s clear statement, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan are reported to have been still trying to get an extension for General Raheel.

Recently, this newspaper reported how the influential duo in the PML-N is pleading the case of Raheel Sharif’s extension. Despite being appreciative of the role played by the army chief in the war against terrorism, the prime minister is against giving extensions on the basis of principle.

While General Raheel Sharif announced early this year that he will retire on the due date, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been speaking against extensions in the past.

As an opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif despite his liking for former army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had sounded his reservations about the extension given to Gen Kayani by the-then PPP government.

On this particular issue, the two Sharifs as per their past record appear to be on the same page. Early this year, while responding to the weeks’ long speculation about his possible extension, the army chief had termed the speculation baseless and said, “Pakistan Army is a great institution. I don’t believe in extension’… and will retire on the due date.”

Unfortunately, despite the army chief’s unambiguous statement about his retirement and not getting any extension, the issue remained the focus of the media and politics.

Some demanded the army chief to withdraw his decision of not getting an extension, a few opined that letting General Raheel Sharif retire on the due date will negatively affect the military operation against terrorism; others thought he is indispensable.

Although, the army chief’s January 2016 statement about his retirement on due date was appreciated by most in politics and the media, there is pressure on the PML-N government to offer anextension to the army chief despite the latter’s reluctance.