One big mess

Published October 14, 2021

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

New funds
27 Feb, 2024

New funds

PAKISTAN plans to seek a new loan of $6bn from the IMF under its Extended Fund Facility for a period of three years,...
Missing link
27 Feb, 2024

Missing link

WITH most of Punjab and KP now accessible via motorways, which have greatly eased road travel for the bulk of the...
Tragedy averted
Updated 27 Feb, 2024

Tragedy averted

Pakistan must shed the layers of intolerance that have been allowed to permeate society.
Spirit of ’74
26 Feb, 2024

Spirit of ’74

FOR three days in 1974, starting Feb 22, Lahore witnessed an epochal meeting of 38 Muslim nations as it hosted the...
Silence strategy
Updated 26 Feb, 2024

Silence strategy

Attempts at internet censorship only serve to tarnish Pakistan’s image globally and betray the democratic principles the country purports to uphold.
Nepra’s reluctance
26 Feb, 2024

Nepra’s reluctance

WHAT is the point in having a regulator that does not punish the entities it oversees for misconduct and...