Lahore/Islamabad - A man of integrity and professional commitment, a leader of an iron will marked with clarity of purpose, an accomplished general immensely loved by his people – Raheel Sharif- is retiring to pavilion after playing a wonderful three-year innings.

Accomplishment of peace and stability was “no ordinary task”, he told a huge gathering of army soldiers and Rangers at the Lahore Garrison yesterday, as he officially began his farewell visits.

“Our sacrifices and joint national resolve helped us in offsetting all odds against [the] country,” said the general, who led his people from the front against the monster of terrorism with significant success.

“We are fully prepared to respond to any challenge and no one can dare cast an evil eye on Pakistan,” Gen Raheel said, as the country is at an undeclared war with India which has been shelling across the borders in Kashmir and near Sialkol for months, and carrying out subversive activities in Pakistan for years.

Keeping his word, Raheel is going to pass on the command of an army he proudly calls ‘the best in the world’ to a yet-to-be named successor at the end of this month, leaving behind a legacy of utmost dedication and pristine service.

The official start of his farewell visits has left all mills shut which had kept churning out rumours about an extension in service, creation of a new position for him and even possibility of an outright military takeover.

A smooth transition at the helm of army may not be so an extraordinary thing in other countries, but it definitely is in Pakistan - which has a chequered past of military coups and interventions.

Under General Raheel the army did keep its grip on some areas of foreign policy but he’s leaving behind a stronger-than-ever democracy, despite many damages done to it by the civilian side.

The COAS said Pakistani people were most resilient and brave nation in the world who have always persevered in adverse conditions.

He said that Zarb-e-Azb military operation has resulted in a more secure and stable Pakistan with a sense of greater hope and direction.

Gen Raheel thanked all ranks of the army and Rangers for their services under his command. He said that it was a matter of great pride for him to have commanded the finest army in the world.

He urged 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 a greater sense of sacrifice.

Later, the same day the army chief visited Gujranwala and addressed officers and troops of Mangla and Gujranwala corps.

In his address, he paid rich tribute to the professionalism, dedication and sacrifices of troops while defending the motherland.

He also appreciated the Mangla Corps for successfully undertaking the task of capacity building and imparting training to troops and law enforcement agencies.

Army spokesman had in Jan rubbished rumours regarding an extension in Gen Raheel’s tenure, quoting him as saying he will “retire on due date”. Speculation had been rife regarding Raheel’s extension after former military ruler Musharraf warned against change in command at the ‘crucial time’.

Farewell preparations at PM House

Preparations were in full swing at Prime Minister’s House to accord befitting farewell to General Raheel, according to PM House sources.

A federal cabinet meeting, to be held on Wednesday or Thursday, would also be paying rich tributes to the general.

A source in the PM House said that the date for the event would be finalised in consultation with the army quarters as General Raheel Sharif’s farewell meetings’ schedule is quite hectic as he initiated these meetings a bit late - only a week before he leaves.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would also undertake a two-day visit to Turkmenistan on 25th of this month so the farewell reception for the army chief would either be held in a next couple of day after PM’s return.

The sources in the government said it is more likely that the PM House farewell would be held on 28th of this month, a day before the formal handing over of the charge to the next army chief on 29th.