ISLAMABAD - The hugely popular military chief, General Raheel Sharif confirmed yesterday he will retire at the end of his tenure this year, ending speculation surrounding his role and opening up arguably the most powerful position in the country.

Gen Raheel, widely credited with bringing a semblance of security back to the insurgency-plagued country, said in a meeting with his top officials Monday that he planned to seek no extension.

“Pakistan Army is a great institution,” army spokesman Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa quoted the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as saying on Twitter. “I dont believe in extension and will retire on the due date.”

“Efforts to (root) out terrorism will continue with full vigor and resolve. Pakistan’s national interest is supreme and will be safeguarded at all costs.”

The speculations regarding extension in his service of the army chief had flared up further after the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf called for an extension in General Raheel’s tenure, warning against a change in the military leadership in critical time.

“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 to waste,” Musharraf had said.

Few months ago, the federal government communicated its desire to extend the tenure of COAS from three to four years.

Senior aides of the prime minister told The Nation that the proposal was informally floated with the top military office. But General Raheel, they claim, effectively communicated to the federal government that he may not be interested in any extension in his office tenure.

The army chief suggested that the government should reconsider the proposal and implement it, if it desired so, from the tenure of the next chief of the army staff, who will take charge in November 2016.

Raheel Sharif was named army chief in 2013, when his predecessor General Ashfaq Kayani’s term – which had been extended by three years – came to an end. The COAS is due to step down this year.

Former military leaders Pervez Musharraf and Zia ul Haq, who both led military coups, also extended their own rule while in power.

Former President Asif Ali Zardari, whose PPP government had given extension to General Ashfaq Kayani, has welcomed the announcement.

It is good that the rumors about army chief’s extension have been set aside and a categorical statement made that General Raheel will not seek extension in service, PPP co-chairman said in a statement. He said the army is a premier institution, the cause of which will be best served if the tradition of extension in service is not allowed to gain roots.

AMPL chief Sheikh Rashid and other political leaders also welcomed the decision of the COAS.

Security analyst Talat Masood told AFP Gen Raheel’s announcement would strengthen democracy in Pakistan and send a signal to politicians, in particular Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, that it is time to “take responsibility and strengthen Pakistan’s institutions so you don’t have to rely on the military”.

“He (Nawaz Sharif) has lost a lot of space to the military in the last two or three years, it will give him an opportunity to regain that space,” Masood said.

The announcement, which came less than a week after Taliban-linked militants killed 21 people in an attack on a university in the troubled northwest, was quickly praised on social media.

“Well-done Uncle Rahil Sharif, every #COAS should act like you, no greed but resolve to serve the nation,” wrote Ab Rasheed Qureshi, using the acronym for his official title.

Under Raheel Sharif the Pakistani military launched an offensive in the tribal areas in June 2014, where militants had previously operated with impunity.

The operation was intensified after a December 2014 attack on a school in the city of Peshawar in which Taliban militants massacred more than 150 people, the majority of them children.

Profile of the beloved Army Chief

n Born in Quetta on June 16, 1956 to Major and Mrs Muhammad Sharif, Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif grew up steeped in the military tradition.

n He attained his formal education at Government College Lahore and later went on to attend the Pakistan Military Academy.

n As a young officer, he performed his duties in Gilgit in an infantry brigade and also served as adjutant of Pakistan Military Academy.

n Over the years, Sharif climbed up the military ladder mentored by Musharraf who handed him command of the 11th Infantry Division in Lahore.

n He was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, the second highest civilian award and honour that is given to both civilians and military officers of the Pakistan armed forces.

n Despite the common surname, Raheel Sharif is not related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but is known to be close to tribal affairs minister Lieutenant-General Abdul Qadir Baloch, a key confidante of the Sharif family.

n The general is married with two sons and a daughter.