THE much-vaunted ‘one page’ appears increasingly frayed. It has been a week since matters have been in a slow-burn mode between the military and the government over the posting out of Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as DG ISI and the appointment of a new army officer in his place.

Simply put, Prime Minister Imran Khan does not want Lt Gen Hameed transferred; in fact, he told the federal cabinet on Tuesday that the precarious situation in Afghanistan demanded that the ISI chief stay on for some time. A routine procedural matter has now escalated into a lack of consensus over whom to appoint in his place, and how to do so.

A press conference by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, also on Tuesday, said the matter had been ‘resolved’ following another meeting between the army chief and the prime minister and that the government would follow the “legal and constitutional procedure” in appointing the next DG ISI. Given that the ISPR announced last Wednesday that Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum was to be the new ISI chief, is the minister implying there is a question mark on the legality of the army chief or ISPR’s actions?

Read more: What is the process of appointing Pakistan's spymaster?

Defence analysts tend to agree that it is indeed the prime minister’s prerogative to select one among three options the COAS puts to him as the potential DG ISI. The army chief can of course convince him about the need to rotate his three-star generals, including the ISI chief, and advise him on who would be the better choice as a replacement. At the same time, the fact is the prime minister has consistently ceded space to an institution he sees as a critical supporting pillar for his government. That leaves him in a weak position to assert his jurisdiction, that too in a matter the military considers its domain.

Civilian authority must be guarded jealously in a country with a history of political interference by unelected forces; ceding space is a slippery slope that empowers one side even as it inexorably diminishes the other.

At its core, the prevailing tension is the result of the almost unprecedented blurring of institutional boundaries witnessed since the PTI government came to power. Breaching of constitutional limits weakens the state by sowing suspicion and division amongst its various organs. It is high time the ISI narrowed its scope of work to its original mandate — that of external security. Equally, civilian governments must stop looking to the ‘third umpire’ for reinforcement, even survival.

Read more: Stand-off on ISI chief's appointment has exposed growing gap between civil-military leadership

Not many will be taken in by Mr Khan’s contention that he wanted the same DG ISI to remain in office because of the Afghan situation. It is worth asking why a prime minister who claims to be elected by millions of his countrymen and women believes his destiny and that of his government are so closely linked with a single individual.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

Covid funds controversy
Updated 01 Dec 2021

Covid funds controversy

A COMPREHENSIVE and detailed report by the auditor general of Pakistan on the utilisation of Covid-19 funds by the...
01 Dec 2021

Sindh LG law

THE Sindh Local Government Act, 2013, introduced by the PPP to roll back the Musharraf-era local bodies system in ...
01 Dec 2021

Monster of circular debt

NOW that the staff-level agreement has been finalised between Islamabad and the IMF to restart the suspended $6bn...
New Covid danger
30 Nov 2021

New Covid danger

The government’s messaging around the coronavirus and the potential threat of Omicron must be reactivated.
Updated 30 Nov 2021

Saudi conditions

DECADES of fiscal profligacy have trapped the country in a situation where it not only has to borrow more money to...
30 Nov 2021

Mental health concerns

THE economic and psychological effects of Covid-19, combined with the issues of joblessness and inflation, have had ...