NEW YORK - As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif completes the main part of his 4-day visit to the United States, American officials state they were now looking forward to holding talks next month with Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif , the "soldier-statesman" who "calls the shots on the issues Washington cares most about," according to a report in a major newspaper.

“The civilian entities don’t have the ability to deliver on a few things at this point,” a senior US official was quoted as stating in an Islamabad-datelined dispatch published in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. As for Gen. Sharif, the official said: “He can deliver.”

Citing officials and analysts, the Journal said  Gen. Sharif "has eclipsed the authority of the country’s elected leaders on critical security-policy matters, including the fight against Islamic extremists, the Afghan peace process and the country’s nuclear-weapons programme".

"Gen. Sharif, who isn’t related to the Prime Minister, has turned himself into a cult hero by battling terrorism and restoring a measure of order in Pakistan’s biggest and most violent City, Karachi," the dispatch said. "That has bolstered the Army’s standing and political power in a country where democracy has struggled to take firm root."

The improvement in Pakistan’s security situation is stark, it said, noting that the number of civilians and soldiers killed in terrorist attacks is on track to be lower this year than at any time since 2006,  helping spark an economic rebound.

“There is God in the sky, and here on the ground there is Raheel Sharif ,” Muhammad Atiq Mir, chairman of All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, was quoted as saying. "Billboards in the City, paid for by local businesses, proclaim: 'Thank you for saving Karachi, Raheel Sharif '.”

The journal cited current and former US officials as saying that they believe the Prime Minister had ceded control over certain security matters to Gen. Sharif, while the Prime Minister focused on the economy and other issues.

They said the Prime Minister appeared comfortable with the division of labor and that Gen. Sharif had been “supportive” of civilian institutions.

In a recent meeting in Rawalpindi, Gen. Sharif told a visiting US delegation how important it was to him “not to be seen as the main power” in Pakistan.

The Prime Minister’s visit comes as the administration moved to finalise a long-standing plan to sell up to eight additional F-16s to Pakistan. Administration officials said the proposed sale was aimed at bolstering Pakistan’s counterterrorism campaign against militants.

Officials said Thursday’s meeting between President Obama and the Prime Minister, in the absence of Gen. Sharif, was meant to highlight the importance the White House places on empowering Pakistan’s civilian government.

But given the country’s history and the role of the Armed Forces, US officials said a transition to civilian leadership in all matters of state would take time.

In the meantime, “the US can’t want something for the civilians more than they want it for themselves,” a senior administration official said.

Gen. Sharif has won widespread approval for moving authoritatively where previous Pakistani leaders, military and civilian, have dithered, the Journal said. The extent of his popularity in Pakistan has prompted intense speculation that his term as Army chief could be extended, it said.