ISLAMABAD: Former army chief General (R) Raheel Sharif says that he had never sought an extension as army chief, denying the PML-N’s claim that the party was victimized for not extending the tenure of the then top military commander.
The issue of Raheel Sharif’s extension recently cropped up again after Lt Gen (R) Abdul Qadir Baloch said that he was told by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that Raheel had approached him repeatedly to get an extension but the former premier had declined the request.
What went on during those days was also reported by The News. But after the departure of their government, some top PML-N leaders have been talking on this issue and linking scandals such as Dawnleaks and Panama to their decision of not giving an extension to General Raheel Sharif.
In an interview last year, former finance minister Ishaq Dar had said: “I, along with my party, the PML-N, was victimized for not giving an extension to the then Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif. It was I who, along with Shahbaz Sharif, went to meet General Raheel Sharif and told him that our government was not willing to grant an extension to him. Soon after refusing the extension, scandals such as Dawnleaks and the Panama leaks emerged and were used tactically against us.”
The News contacted General (R) Raheel Sharif through Lt Gen (R) Amjad Shoaib to get his side of the story. Raheel told Shoaib that following a meeting with the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other key PML-N leaders, when he was leaving the meeting room of the PM’s Office, he was approached by Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar.
Raheel told Shoaib that Shahbaz and Nisar had said that they wanted to give him an extension. According to Gen Shoaib, the former army chief replied that he did not want an extension because he had already announced several months ago that he would not continue to stay in office after his three-year term. According to Raheel Sharif, as narrated by Gen Shoaib, the PML-N leaders insisted that since he had performed well as COAS, the country was still engaged in its fight against terrorism and there was a need to bring peace to Karachi, the government therefore wanted him to continue.
Shoaib said that according to Raheel, when the army chief again showed his reluctance, he was offered the slot of field marshal, which he again declined as he was not interested in getting a post where he would become a mere figurehead with nothing to do. It is claimed that the PML-N leaders then told Raheel Sharif that the government would consider empowering the post of field marshal. Gen Raheel told Gen Amjad that he had never on his own discussed any such issue with anyone.
On Sept 11, 2016, The News published a story titled “PM under pressure on extension issue” in which it was reported that Nawaz Sharif was under pressure from certain quarters to extend the tenure of the COAS.
Quoting a credible source, The News had reported: “The prime minister has no intention to give an extension.” Asked if that’s a decision, the source said, “Yes, it’s a decision.”
The story added that although the army chief had himself stated categorically that he would not accept an extension, there was pressure on the prime minister to offer it to General Raheel Sharif. The source quoted in the story had also dismissed the speculation of elevating General Raheel to the post of field marshal.
Asked who was exerting pressure on the prime minister, the source said not only were some influential leaders in the PML-N repeatedly urging the prime minister to offer an extension to General Raheel but there were also some other ‘influentials’ pressing for it. It was also reported by the newspaper that Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Khan were trying to get an extension for General Raheel.
According to an informed PML-N leader, Shahbaz and Nisar had even visited Nawaz Sharif in London, where he had gone for his open-heart surgery, to press for an extension fearing that otherwise martial law could be imposed. Even then, Nawaz is believed to have refused to give an extension.
Meanwhile, a close associate of Nawaz Sharif told this correspondent that while Raheel Sharif wanted a three-year extension, the then DG ISI Lt Gen (R) Rizwan Akhtar was keen that the army chief got a one-year extension. That is because after a year, Akhtar would be eligible to make it to the list of top Lt Generals who would be considered for the post of the next COAS.