Mr. Sharif former periods of time as prime minister were ended untimely by army chiefs. In 1999, he was expelled in a coup and imprisoned by the army leader he had selected, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, during his two terms as army chief, has overseen the first democratic transfer of power in Pakistan’s history and cooperated with the U.S. military, despite hostile anti-American public opinion at home.
Gen. Kayani had entreated for a further one or two years on the job, according to serving and retired military officials. That would be difficult for the government to grant after Gen. Kayani has already served twice the normal three-year term for the post.
Officials said Kayani is cooked to accept a vamped Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee job, currently a largely ceremonial post that would be given more authority, or to become defense adviser to the government.
He could also be appointed as U.S ambassador a post that has been vacant since Mr. Sharif took office in June.
The spokesman for Pakistan’s military, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, didn’t return calls seeking comment on Gen. Kayani’s future role.
The leadership changes come, as the army appears likely to found an offensive in the next few months in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, a fastness for Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda militants and Afghan guerillas. Recent overtures to peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban have been polluted by deadly attacks by the domestic insurgence.
In recent weeks, there has also been renewed tension with arch enemy India, with frequent exchanges of fire across their disputed border in the Kashmir region.
Gen. Kayani has already turned down the offer of taking the Joint Chiefs job as it currently stands, and wants authority over military appointments and troop movement added to the position, a military official said.
“Kayani is using his office to say that he’s the guy who can control North Waziristan, he’s the one who can handle what is happening with India,” said a retired army officer who knows the army chief. “With all this going on, he’s saying now is not the time for a change of leadership.”
All three potential appointments are made by the government. Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, said discussions about Gen. Kayani’s future were conjecture, and declined to comment further.
Prime Minister Sharif, asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published on Sept. 26 whether he would reappoint Gen. Kayani, said: “I’m not saying yes or no.” Mr. Sharif also holds the defense minister’s portfolio.
An announcement on Gen. Kayani’s future looks imminent, with the current Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne, due to retire on Sunday.
If Gen. Kayani is given that job, it would overturn previous expectations that he would simply have to retire in November at the end of his second tenure.
It had been expected that Gen. Wynne would be succeeded by either the Navy chief, Admiral Asif Sandila, or by Gen. Haroon Aslam, the army general who’s most senior after Gen. Kayani.
“Ashfaq Kayani has had more than his rightful tenure,” said Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier general who once taught Gen. Kayani at military academy. “Perhaps he should call it a day. It is not a good thing for the institution that it gives the impression that it cannot do without one person.”
Political aides to Mr. Sharif said Gen. Kayani has proved that he isn’t a coup-maker, and dissented pressure for military intervention during the previous government—the first civilian government in Pakistan’s history that completed its term and handed over power to another elected administration.
Some Pakistanis said the U.S. was subservient in getting Gen. Kayani’s incumbency extended in 2010—a move that enraged some senior generals who saw their career progress blocked as a result.
The U.S. hasn’t been involved in the current discussions about Gen. Kayani’s future, a U.S. official said. “We’ve really stayed out of it this time,” the official said.