COAS Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in a talk with reporters has said that come the end of the year, he will no longer be in uniform. According to a news agency report published on Tuesday, he said while talking to reporters informally that free and fair elections were his dream and he was glad that it was being realized soon. Elections due to be held as soon as the assemblies come to an end with the expiry of their tenures, and General Kayani himself comes to the end of his tenure towards the end of the year. While some have tried to persuade the public of the necessity of a second extension in the COAS’s tenure, thankfully General Kayani himself has put paid to any such whispers. Speaking of his last extension, he said he had completed the task given to him.

The ground realities in Pakistan include a history of an army often seduced by civilian responsibilities, which has imposed martial law four times in the past, with the last military ruler having left office as President only in 2008. This is only the first time since 1977 that an outgoing civilian government is preparing to hold elections. There will have to be some more such elections before the army is assumed to support, as General Kayani said, the elections being held in the country. As the country heads towards elections, the doubts about the military interfering in politics must be assuaged. It is also important that, when there is a caretaker government, there must be a clear perception, both at home and abroad, that the government is firmly in control of the military, as is its constitutional responsibility.

While General Kayani may well have reflected the national sentiment, it should also be noted that he sailed dangerously close to speaking about politics. Indeed, while he did not engage in support for any political party, his speaking of the elections was itself political. He should have avoided this, but it is to be hoped that his successors will not have to speak out in favour of elections. The elections, though mandated by the constitution, will have to recur several times under a self-perpetuating process, before the COAS, like his counterparts in the developed world, can keep quiet whenever there are elections.