The suspense over the successor to Pakistan Army's powerful chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani mounted today with no names being announced even though the incumbent is to retire on Friday.
Even though various names and theories are being floated, officials close to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who will today host a farewell dinner for Kayani, say the premier is holding the crucial cards close to his heart.
In a surprise move, 61-year-old Kayani had scotched speculation of a possible extension by issuing a statement on October 6 saying, "My tenure ends on 29th November 2013. On that day I will retire." He was hand-picked by former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf as the army chief in 2007. He was given an unprecedented three-year extension by then premier Yousuf Raza Gilani in 2010.
The selection of the chief of the Pakistani army, often described as the state within the state, has not been an easy task for the civilian government and especially for the once bitten, twice shy Sharif.
For Sharif, choosing the new Army chief would be a calibrated move. This would be the fourth time he would be choosing an Army Chief. He picked up Abdul Waheed Kakar as the Army chief in 1993 but the General soon ditched him and played a key role in Sharif's resignation. Kakar had superseded at least four senior generals.
In 1998, he hand-picked Pervez Musharraf to head the Army and he too had superseded at least two Generals. Musharraf first plotted the Kargil misadventure derailing Sharif's India-Pakistan peace dialogue in 1999 and then engineered a coup against the Prime Minister in the same year.
Sharif selected Ziauddin Butt in October 1999 but he could not take over as the Army chief due to the coup by Musharraf. Kayani, who also served as the Director-General of the spy agency ISI and director of the Directorate-General of Military Operations, will hang his boots on Friday after being at the helm of the Army for six years.
The next Chief will have to be someone who can hit the ground running. He will be in command while the pullout of international forces starts from neighbouring Afghanistan and the operation/negotiation game between the Pakistani Taliban and the Nawaz Sharif government.
He can also influence the government's diplomatic dance with India, the US, China and the Gulf states, as well as more local, security-centric initiatives, like energy efficiency and stabilising Balochistan, the Express Tribune had reported.
Also, the slot of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee still lies vacant after the retirement of Gen Khalid Shamim Wynne. This position, though traditionally held by the Army, is actually meant to be shared on a turn-by-turn basis between the three services - the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
This time, it is technically the turn of the Navy to man that helm - the senior-most military officer on offer is also the Naval Chief, Admiral Asif Sandila, with four stars on his shoulder.
If Navy chief gets the CJCSC post, then Lt Gen Haroon Aslam, currently Chief of Logistics Staff, will be the new Army chief if Sharif sticks to his pre-election promise of going by seniority. He will be the senior most General when Kayani steps down.
The other two in contention, based on seniority, will be Lt Gen Rashid Mehmood, Chief of General Staff, who enjoy's Kayani's blessings, and Lt Gen Raheel Sharif.