Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has confirmed he will retire next month, laying to rest speculation he would extend his term or take a powerful new position in the military.
Kayani, 61, who has served two three-year terms, said he would step down on November 29. "It is time for others to carry forward the mission of making Pakistan a truly democratic, prosperous and peaceful country," he said.
The announcement paves the way for the appointment of a new army chief - always a delicate matter in a country that has suffered four military coups - at a time when Pakistan's military is playing a central role in dealings with Taliban insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistani and Western media outlets speculated in recent days that Kayani's military service could be extended, possibly by moving him to a new role in which he would have oversight of the country's nuclear arsenal. But the general's aides privately dismissed those reports, and in his statement, the general said: "Institutions and traditions are stronger than individuals."
Delaying his retirement might have caused discontent in the ranks. Some soldiers expressed unhappiness with Kayani after the US commando raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden near a major military base. And an extended tenure would delay promotions for the senior generals serving under him.
Kayani has cultivated an aura of mystery and inscrutability since becoming army chief in November 2007, succeeding General Pervez Musharraf, after a period as head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the military's powerful spy agency.
He led a successful military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley, as well as less decisive campaigns in South Waziristan and other parts of the tribal belt. But during his tenure there was also an alarming surge in Taliban violence across the rest of the country, including a 2009 assault on the military's heavily fortified general headquarters in Rawalpindi that embarrassed the senior leadership.