The will-he-won’t-he saga of General Raheel Sharif’s retirement is finally drawing to a close – with little more than a week left till November 29, the outgoing Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) has begun his farewell visits to various garrisons.

The announcement of his retirement came way back in January through ISPR, yet, come November, the COAS has surprised many by sticking to his word and not seeking an extension to his tenure at the head of the armed forces. There have been calls to do otherwise, the banners put up in Karachi and whispered rumours of granting him a permanent position at the head of the armed forces as field marshal have not been entertained.

By moving forward with his retirement plans, General Raheel Sharif has given further credence to the institutional integrity of the army, at a time when other institutions, including the government, have no such moral high-ground. Following the rules at a time when others are publicly perceived as breaking them can do wonders for the image of an institution – not that the public perception of the army was ever tarnished, but after three years, it looks more polished than it ever was.

Perhaps the cornerstone of General Raheel Sharif’s time as COAS has been exactly this – looking to improve the public perception of the army even further. The war on terror and the armed forces’ success in counter-terrorism efforts have been important, but any strong-willed General with tactical know-how and grit could have taken the fight to the enemy. The military takeovers, particularly the last one, had left many in the country wary of the intentions of the top brass with regards to democratic governance.

A COAS that could make the army protect institutional rules and procedures while keeping its power and influence intact is something that the country had so far not seen. With three years under his belt, General Raheel Sharif, and through him, the army was at the head of matters of foreign policy in relation to specific states, and was consistently compared to the sitting government, making the Prime Minister seem like the lesser Sharif at every step. Strategic policy had always been the domain of the establishment, but during General Sharif’s tenure, key economic decisions (CPEC) were also made with the army at the table.

And that is what makes the retiring General special. The gains made on the battlefield were successful and tangible – the Global Terrorism Index has recorded a drop in terrorist activities in Pakistan for two straight years – but the ability to not take unnecessary action or liberties beyond what was required of a COAS is what will make General Raheel stand out from his predecessors. His retirement signifies that the army is an institution, and not an individual, that passing the torch does not have to imply upheaval, and can often be the most welcome choice. One can only hope that his successor will have similar values.