LAHORE/KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistan’s largest opposition party has asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to extend the term of the powerful army chief when he retires in November, party officials said on Thursday.
Last month, army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, widely popular for launching operations against militants in several parts of the country, broke a precedent of generals seeking to extend their terms and said he would step down when his three-year one ends.
Since then, posters have appeared in major cities asking the general not to retire and hundreds of people have held rallies in his support.
“Move on Pakistan,” a new political party formed by influential businessmen in the country’s rich Punjab province, has campaigned for his service to be extended.
“Gen. Raheel Sharif is successfully running the war on terror not only against terrorists but also against their financiers and supporters,” Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Khurram Jahangir Wattoo, who submitted a resolution in the Punjab Assembly asking for an extension, told Reuters.
“If he retires, the present rulers would not be able to continue the operation with the same spirit.”
Since Sharif took office in 2013, the army has launched aerial and ground assaults against insurgent strongholds near the Afghan border, earning broad support from a population tired of militant violence.
The army has also received acclaim for a 20-point plan to tackle militancy launched after Taliban gunmen attacked a school and killed 134 children in 2014.
But the resolution comes at a time of tension between the army and the PPP over a security crackdown in Karachi, the capital of the Sindh province the PPP rules.
Last year, a prominent PPP politician was arrested on charges of corruption and for aiding and abetting militants. The PPP condemned the arrest as politically motivated.
The arrest, as well as raids on government offices by paramilitary soldiers, raised accusations that the military, which has a history of launching coups, was seeking to weaken civilian politicians in the country’s largest and wealthiest city.
But this week, PPP leaders spoke up in the general’s support in what observers see as an attempt to mend fences in the face of mounting pressure.
Former president and PPP chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who just months ago publicly lashed out at the army for overstepping its domain, on Wednesday said the army chief decision to step down was “premature”.
Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Richard Borsuk