ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, confirmed Sunday that he would retire next month, laying to rest media speculation that he would extend his term or take a powerful new position in the military.
Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani
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General Kayani, 61, who has already served two three-year terms as army chief, said in a statement released through the military press office that he would step down on Nov. 29.
“It is time for others to carry forward the mission of making Pakistan a truly democratic, prosperous and peaceful country,” he said.
The announcement was significant because it paves the way for the appointment of a new army chief — always a delicate matter in a country that has suffered four military coups — at a time when Pakistan’s military is playing a central role in dealings with Taliban insurgents in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistani and Western media outlets speculated in recent days that General Kayani’s military service could be extended, possibly by moving him to a new role in which he would have oversight of the country’s nuclear arsenal. But the general’s aides privately dismissed those reports, and in his statement on Sunday the general said, “Institutions and traditions are stronger than individuals.”
Delaying his retirement might have caused discontent in the ranks. Some soldiers expressed unhappiness with General Kayani after the American commando raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden near a major military base.
And an extended tenure for him would delay promotions for the senior generals who serve directly under him.
General Kayani has cultivated an aura of mystery and inscrutability since he became army chief in November 2007, succeeding Gen. Pervez Musharraf, following a period as the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the military’s powerful spy agency.
In recent years, the public image of the chain-smoking general has been that of a quiet, thoughtful figure, credited with distancing the military from the political power grabs that discredited several previous army chiefs.
He led a successful military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan, as well as less decisive campaigns in South Waziristan and other parts of the tribal belt.
But during his tenure there was also an alarming surge in Taliban violence across the rest of the country, including a 2009 assault on the military’s heavily fortified general headquarters in Rawalpindi that embarrassed the senior leadership.
And though the military claims to have turned away from tacitly supporting Islamist militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, Pakistan’s Western allies believe that it maintains links with selected groups.
“The announcement is not unexpected or surprising,” Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst based in Lahore, said of General Kayani’s retirement. “He had already received one extension.”
Mr. Rizvi said the general would go home “as a satisfied man who tried to perform his responsibility within the constitutional ambit.”