ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s influential army chief on Monday said he would step down at the end of his three-year term in November, the military’s public relations wing said, breaking a precedent of military leaders seeking to extend their terms.
General Raheel Sharif is considered by many to be Pakistan’s most powerful man.
Since he took office in 2013, the army has launched aerial and ground assaults against Islamist insurgent strongholds near the Afghan border in the northwest, earning the military broad support from a Pakistani population tired of militant violence.
Critics say the crackdown has been selective, going after some militant groups, but leaving others intact.
Elements of Pakistan’s army have in the past been accused of tacitly supporting Islamist armed groups that launch attacks in Afghanistan and India as a way to pressure both neighbours.
The general has thrown his support behind elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during anti-government protests, while at the same time solidifying the military’s hold over national security and foreign policy.
General Sharif has also presided over a security crackdown in Karachi, the country’s largest city, which has sharply reduced murder rates but drawn protests from opposition politicians who say their activists have been targeted.
Under his watch, the military has been given authority to try civilians suspected of terrorism in secret military courts.
General Sharif is said to have been personally involved in efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban into peace talks with Afghanistan, though those efforts have stalled.
Speculation that General Sharif would seek to extend his tenure for another term was baseless, the army’s public relations wing said in a series of tweets issued on Monday.
“The Pakistan Army is a great institution. I don’t believe in extension,” he was quoted as saying.
General Sharif’s decision would represent a win for democratic institutions, but raises questions on the future of campaigns against militants. No obvious candidate to succeed him has yet emerged.
General Sharif pledged that efforts to combat terrorism “will continue with full vigor and resolve” after he retired, the army tweets said.
Pakistan’s past two military chiefs had sought extensions of their terms instead of stepping down, with General Pervez Musharraf staging a coup to topple Nawaz Sharif during a previous term as prime minister.
Additional reporting by Asad Hashim; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez