Pakistan's all-powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif on Monday began a farewell tour of various army outposts across the country before his retirement on November 29, ending months of speculation of an extension of his term.
"The COAS (Chief of Army Staff) kicks off his farewell visits beginning from Lahore today," Military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said.
Bajwa said General Raheel met troops and addressed a "huge gathering of soldiers of army and Rangers at (Lahore) Garrison."
#COAS kicks off his farewell visits beginning from Lhr today.Meets,addresses,thanks huge gathering of soldiers of Army&Rangers at Garrison-1— Gen Asim Bajwa (@AsimBajwaISPR) November 21, 2016
General Sharif, who is to retire after serving for three years as army chief, said accomplishment of peace and stability was no ordinary task.
Accomplishment of peace&stability no ordinary task.Our sacrifices&joint national resolve helped us in off setting all odds against country-2 pic.twitter.com/yYak27TU98— Gen Asim Bajwa (@AsimBajwaISPR) November 21, 2016
"Our sacrifices and joint national resolve helped us in off-setting all odds against the country," he said.
"We are fully prepared to respond to any challenge and no one could dare cast an evil eye on Pakistan," he said, in an apparent reference to India amid tension along the LoC.
General said that the military operation 'Zarb-e-Azb' against militants in North Waziristan has resulted in a more secure and stable Pakistan with a sense of greater hope and direction.
"Pakistani people are the most resilient and brave in the world who have always persevered in adverse conditions," he said.
He asked the troops to follow the norms of their rich military tradition with even greater vigour and continue serving their people with utmost dedication, resilience and greater sense of sacrifice.
General Raheel, 60, 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.
On Friday, General Raheel visited Government College University (GCU) Lahore, his alma mater and interacted with the students and faculty members.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has four options before him for the post of new army chief.
The line-up as per seniority is more or less clear. Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Zubair Hayat is the senior most followed by Multan Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday and Inspector General Training and Evaluation Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Official sources privy to the development told PTI that Lt Gen Nadeem and Lt Gen Bajwa are the potential candidates for the slot of the army chief for different reasons.
"PM Sharif has completed the consultation with Gen Raheel about the appointment of new chief and he is likely to pick between Nadeem Ahmed and Bajwa this week," a source said.
Nadeem has held several key posts previously, including that of the chief of general staff and director general of military operations. He has served in the fight against Islamic militants in the northwestern border along Afghanistan.
Raheel in January had declared he would not seek extension.
"I will retire on the due date," he had said.
There were speculation that the PML-N government would give him extension at the eleventh hour citing reasons that he was needed by the country to lead war on terror. The post of Army chief is the most powerful in Pakistan.
This will be the fifth time that Prime Minister Sharif will pick the top commander of the country's nearly 550,000 ground troops.
If his botched attempt to replace General Musharraf with Ziauddin Butt in 1999 is also counted, this will be the sixth time Sharif gets to choose an army chief.