ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The head of Pakistan’s powerful military said on Sunday he would retire in November as planned, in an announcement many believe will help bolster the fragile democracy of the coup-prone nation.
Pakistanis have been speculating for months whether Ashfaq Kayani would try to extend his three-year term for a third time, a prospect the announcement ruled out.
“I share the general opinion that institutions and traditions are stronger than individuals and must take precedence,” Kayani said in a statement.
“It is time for others to carry forward the mission of making Pakistan a truly democratic, prosperous and peaceful country.”
Kayani said there were many “rumours and speculations” about his future plans. He did not directly comment on reports that after retirement he would take over as the powerful head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Politicians say the new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, wants to revamp the committee to become a central defence body that will command the entire military establishment.
Sharif, who was overthrown by a coup during a previous term, took power after a landslide win in May elections. The polls marked the first time one elected government had handed power to another in Pakistan’s history.
Kayani’s appointment as head of the newly empowered committee would mean he was still de facto head of the military.
That might help Sharif ensure some continuity at a time the country is beset by rising militant violence and tensions are heightened with neighbouring India over disputed Kashmir.
It might also help smooth relations with the United States ahead of a pullout of most foreign troops in neighbouring Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Much of the U.S. equipment that is being shipped backed will transit through Pakistan. (Reporting by Katharine Houreld; editing by Andrew Roche)