By Aamir Latif
Thousands of banners indirectly urging an army takeover of Pakistan’s government have been put up across the country in recent days.
Pictures of Army chief Raheel Sharif and slogans supporting him adorn the banners which have mostly been placed on heavily-secured roads near government and military offices, according to eyewitnesses and local media reports, leading to speculation the campaign had the military’s tacit support.
The banners were put up by the obscure Move On Pakistan party, which earlier launched a campaign requesting General Sharif reconsider plans to retire in November.
He had rejected calls to extend his term after his popularity was boosted by the perceived success of a military operation against Taliban militants in the country’s northwestern tribal areas.
“Though he had categorically announced he would not accept [an] extension in his term, it now seems he has started reconsidering that decision,” General Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense and political analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
Masood said “certain quarters in the military establishment” who wanted army rule were backing this campaign but others were also opposed to General Sharif staying on as it would block their own rise through the military ranks.
Despite US Senator John McCain calling for General Sharif to stay on, Masood said he did not believe Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shared that stance.
“The prime minister will not compromise on this issue. I don’t think he is going to offer extension to General Raheel Sharif, who no doubt has done a remarkable job in terms of taking on militancy,” he said, adding that an army-imposed martial law was unlikely.
Pakistan has had four military rulers over a 35-year period since it was founded in 1947 and the military has maintained influence on government policies even during elected governance.
Prime Minister Sharif was ousted by military takeovers during both of his previous terms as prime minister.