Islamabad - It is not clear what is on the mind of Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif but it seems that those around him have made up their minds regarding the extension of his tenure.

In measured leaks to media, some officials of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have hinted that the government is inclined to extend the tenure of the army chief, not only in an acknowledgement of the work done by the General but also to mitigate the perception of differences between the civilian government and the military. The growing chorus of public talk about extension when the general has considerable time to retire has also been dubbed as an attempt to malign and draw controversy around the general, who has been till now untainted in public domain.

General Raheel Sharif appointed as 15th Chief of Army of Staff of Pakistan Army by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will retire in November next year and is earning public laurels for his initiation of successful operation Zarb-e-Azb. Zarb-e- Azb was launched last year against terrorists and their sanctuaries in Karachi and FATA and has put militants on the back foot, apart from denying them their main sanctuaries in the tribal regions.

His predecessor General (r) Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani was given extension in the interest of continuity of policy by the then government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Unlike his first term, Gen Kayani’s second tenure was mired in controversies and some accused him of suffering from “paralysis by analysis.” The “thinking general”, as he was often referred to, slid down in the public perception as a general who was hobbled by his obsession with contingency planning.

Gen Raheel Sharif has a starkly different personality from his predecessor. Since assuming the post, he has been at the forefront of conflict zones, whether they be FATA or along the Line Of Control and the Working Boundary. The public views the general as a “doer” and not a “procrastinator.” His authoritative voice, during the few public speeches he has made, is seen as reflective of his determination and resolve. 

Amongst the rank and file of the military, the upfront style of the general and his presence amongst the soldiers has boosted his image. 

The popularity of the general has peaked so much that his pictures have become a familiar sight on billboards and by-election campaign posters around the country.

“This is not the question of precedent or popularity. General Raheel Sharif deserves much more than an extension. Unlike his predecessors his actions are commendable. He is a soldier General”, a senior PML-N leader said.

Some retired senior military officials are of the view that General Raheel Sharif should continue because of the major challenges confronting the country.

“All and sundry have high expectations from General Raheel Sharif to help steer the country from these critical times”, was a sentence echoed by several retired high ranking military officers when reached for background interviews.

Former President General (r) Pervez Musharraf last month in a TV interview called for extending the tenure General Sharif and warned against a change in the military leadership, saying that "he was happy to see growing popularity of General Sharif because he was doing a wonderful job which needed to be continued.

“I wish he carries on with all this he is doing, What he is doing right now, it needs continuity and if there is any change in the leadership amidst this all, all good work which has been done so far would go in waste. So, I can only wish and suggest that he should stay there,” former Chief of Army Staff General Musharraf said.

When asked if there was any “drought” in the military leadership that the departure of the army chief would create and everything good done so far would go to waste, Musharraf said there was always a difference among people but the country needed Gen Sharif to stay at his office.

Some retired officers have again propagated the idea of elevating Gen Raheel as a Field Marshal, which will not only automatically extend the tenure but also has the added advantage of not blocking the promotions of the generals in waiting. Just weeks before the retirement of Gen Kayani, several reports in media had also speculated on the same lines. 

Those, who know Gen Raheel Sharif closely, say that he wants to leave a legacy.

Not the one to be tempted by greed for big money or perks and privileges, Gen Raheel is single-mindedly focused on ridding the country of terrorism and militancy.

Whether he feels that only he can carry the burden of this gargantuan task and not by one of his proteges remains to be seen, and will be the deciding factor in the extension.