ISLAMABAD - Consultations have been completed to choose Kayani’s successor as the government will not wait for November 28, the day when incumbent Chief of Army Staff is going to retire.

The decision will come in the coming week, much earlier than Kayani’s retirement date,” a senior official of Prime Minister Secretariat told The Nation on Friday. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif plans will name the successor of General Kayani weeks before the incumbent’s extended six-year term expires in November, sources revealed. The move is aimed at quashing the ongoing guessing game about the next chief of army staff and ensuring a smooth changeover at a time when the military is fighting militants on many fronts.

In prior two appointments - Gen Waheed Kakar in 1993 and Gen Pervez Musharraf in 1998 - the Premier preferred dependability to merit. However, close aides of the Premier said there is a growing realisation on part of the PM that he made a mistake in ignoring merit when he made the decisive appointments. Now, the Premier has taken a stance that he will make a decision purely on merit and will keep seniority in mind when appointing a new army chief. If the principle of seniority is strictly adhered to, then after the retirement of Gen Kayani, Gen Haroon Aslam is likely to become chairman joint chiefs of staff committee, and next most senior general - Gen Rashid Mahmood - may be new army chief.

Known as a diehard Rajput and a typical Lahoria who has an illustrious penchant for spicy Lahori cuisine, Lt Gen Rashid Mahmood got commission in Pakistan Army in 1979 and belongs to 7 Baloch Regiment. Interestingly the incumbent COAS Gen Kiyani belongs to 5-Baloch Regiment. Gen Rashid Mahmood has served as Military Secretary to former President Rafique Tarar in 1999 at the time when former dictator Pervez Musharaf imposed martial law in the country. He passed staff college from US with flying colours. Gen Rashid also served in ISI as DG (P). He also served as General Officer Commanding (GOC) and Corps Commander Lahore almost for five years in both positions. During this period, he managed good relations with Sharifs.

Gen Kayani, who was appointed as the army chief by former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2007, has already availed a three-year extension granted by then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in 2010. He is now expected to retire on November 28. Some funnily ridiculous reports naively suggest that General Kayani would be made Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee on his retirement. These reports have conveniently forgotten that General Kayani retires on November 28 while CJCSC retires on October 7 and his replacement would be made in the ongoing week.

A PML-N senior leader who is very close to the Prime Minister, however, said that the decision would be taken at an ‘appropriate time and refused to share any decision in this regard.’

Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) had the chance to appoint a new army chief in November 2010 but it extended the tenure of the Gen Kayani. Reuters adds: General Ashfaq Kayani is likely to stay head of the military with a new title when he steps down as army chief next month, government and security sources said, taking over some of the duties of his successor.

Sources and aides close to Kayani said Sharif wanted to make him head of a revamped and more powerful Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC). One senior intelligence official said Sharif planned to overhaul the JCSC, a largely ceremonial office, into a ‘central defence body’ by restoring its command over the entire military establishment and giving it additional powers. “The new JCSC chief will be in charge of the nuclear arsenal. He’ll decide on action against terrorists,” said the source, adding that new powers included the right to promote, post and transfer key military officers.

“Basically, the JCSC office will be what it was always supposed to be. The overall boss.” Military officials did not return repeated calls seeking comment. The government’s spokesman said he also could not comment until an official announcement on Monday when the current JCSC chief is due to step down. “The JCSC chairmanship is the most likely option for Kayani,” said a close Sharif aide. “He’s an expert on the Pakistani insurgency. He understands the war in Afghanistan.”