ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Pakistan’s army chief began a farewell tour ahead of his scheduled retirement, indicating he will become the first army chief in two decades to step down on time in a country usually fraught with tensions over the role of the powerful military.
Gen. Raheel Sharif, 60 years old, is credited with leading counterterrorism operations that significantly reduced militant activity across Pakistan during his three-year tenure. He is also seen as a driving force behind a crackdown on the militant wings of political parties in Karachi, which helped stabilize the country’s largest city and economic hub.
Gen. Sharif’s two predecessors both received term extensions. Some opposition politicians and media commentators in Pakistan had questioned whether Gen. Sharif would serve beyond his retirement date of Nov. 29. However, Pakistan’s military said as early as January that the general would retire on schedule.
The start of Gen. Sharif’s retirement tour on Monday, which the military spokesman announced, was taken as further evidence he intended to step down on time. Departing military chiefs traditionally tour bases across the country and hold farewell meetings with other officials.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who appointed the general to his post in 2013, sees a timely transition at the end of Gen. Sharif’s term as an important test of civilian rule in Pakistan’s long-running tug of war between elected officials and the military, according to the prime minister’s aides. The two Sharifs aren’t related.
Gen. Sharif’s successor is expected to be named in the coming days. The prime minister will choose from a list of candidates after consulting with Gen. Sharif and cabinet members, said defense minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who is a senior member of the ruling party.
The position of army chief is one of the most powerful offices in Pakistan. The country has a history of tensions between civilian governments and the military, including long periods of military rule. Gen. Sharif strengthened the military’s role in foreign and security matters during his term.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst, said Gen. Sharif was probably looking to leave on a high note and avoid the turmoil that has plagued successors who sought term extensions. “He didn’t want to compromise his success in counterterrorism,” Mr. Rizvi said.
Ruling party aides said a punctual transition between army chiefs would mark a milestone for democracy in Pakistan.
“No other military in the world has achieved the kind of victories against terrorism like our army has under Gen. Sharif’s command,” said Mr. Asif, the defense minister. “Gen. Sharif is leaving behind a legacy that he and the armed forces can be proud of.”
“Accomplishment of peace and stability [is] no ordinary task. Our sacrifices and joint national resolve helped us in offsetting all odds against [the] country,” Gen. Sharif said during a farewell visit to soldiers in the eastern city of Lahore, according to military spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa.