Pakistani army chief visits troops ahead of his retirement

ISLAMABAD (AP) " Pakistan's powerful army chief on Monday began a farewell tour of various army outposts across the country, ending public speculation that he might seek an extension of his term in office.

Gen. Raheel Sharif, who is retiring next week after serving for three years as army chief, addressed troops in the city of Lahore and near the country's eastern border with archrival India.

An army statement said he thanked the Pakistani military and underlined that achieving peace and stability has been no ordinary task over the past years.

Hours later, a roadside bomb hit an army patrol in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing a civilian and wounding two soldiers.

During his term, Sharif led a military offensive that dismantled many militant sanctuaries in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. He refused to heed opposition demands and move against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been under pressure due to a money scandal involving family members. The two Sharifs are not related.

Pakistan's prime minister selects the new army chief from a group of most senior officers, according to seniority " the top senior officer becoming the new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff while the second-most-senior is named army chief.

However, there have bene occasions when prime ministers have deviated from tradition.

Currently, Pakistani Lt. Gen. Zubair Hayat has top seniority, while the second-in-line is Lt. Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem.

Nadeem has held several key posts previously, including that of the chief of general staff and director general of military operations. He has served in the fight against Islamic militants in the lawless northwestern border along Afghanistan.

Pakistan's army has ruled the country for most of its history since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. Though elected civilian leaders now govern the country, the military remains an influential presence.

No one claimed responsibility for Monday's bombing in Baluchistan. Qaisar Khan, a local official, said the blast took place in Chaman district.

Baluchistan has seen a low-level insurgency by separatists who want a greater share in the region's natural resources. Al-Qaida-linked militants also operate in the province.


Associated Press Writer Matiullah Achakzai in Chaman, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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