Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is poised to pick a "safe" successor to Pakistan's powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif from among four generals and key considerations will include the candidate's views on foreign policy issues, especially ties with India, a leading newspaper reported on Sunday.
The four Generals in line to succeed General Raheel are Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Zubair Hayat is the senior most followed by Multan Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday and Inspector General Training and Evaluation Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Dawn reported.
In the build-up to the appointment of the next army chief, all candidates appear to be evenly poised and there are no clear front-runners, it said.
When Prime Minister Sharif sits down to choose 60-year- old Gen Raheel's successor, his decision will be guided by personal choices, political considerations, and, in a couple of cases, his own experience of working with the candidates - with a great temptation to go for "someone safe", retired and serving bureaucrats and military officials told the newspaper.
Another consideration likely to be taken into account would be the prospective candidates' views on foreign policy issues, particularly ties with India, the report said.
The succession would take place upon the retirement of Gen Sharif at the end of November.
This will be the fifth time that Sharif - who already holds a record of sorts for being the prime minister who has appointed the most army chiefs - will pick the top commander of the country's nearly 550,000 ground troops. If his botched attempt to replace Gen Pervez Musharraf with Ziauddin Butt in 1999 is also counted, this will be the sixth time Sharif gets to choose a chief of army staff, the report said.
Sharif's earlier picks were Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua (1991), Gen Waheed Kakar (1993), Gen Pervez Musharraf (1998) and Gen Raheel Sharif (2013). Of the seven army chiefs after Gen Zia, five were handpicked by Sharif.
This time round, the government is yet to officially start considering candidates, but those privy to developments in the corridors of power say consultations within the government started at the beginning of this year.
Insiders recall that Gen Raheel's unprecedented announcement from January this year - saying he would retire on time - was also prompted by some of the same behind-the- scenes political manoeuvres. This chatter also spilled over onto social media as calls in favour of and against giving the army chief an extension.
Unless something dramatic happens in the intervening period, the word in Islamabad is that Prime Minister Sharif may make an early announcement about the next army chief - a move that could potentially put Gen Raheel in the retirement mode in the last few months of his tenure - much like he did while appointing Gen Asif Nawaz.