ISLAMABAD: The army on Thursday said it was for the political leadership to decide when to hold polls in the country as it hit back strongly at statements by various politicians against military commanders, particularly former President Asif Ali Zardari’s inappropriate comments about former spy chief Lt Gen Faiz Hamid.

“The decision about early elections is to be taken by politicians and the army has no role,” military spokesman Maj Gen Babar said in comments shared with media by the ISPR.

The PTI has been pressing for fresh elections in the country since former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted from the office through a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly last month. Some PTI leaders at a rally in Jhelum also directly asked the army to fulfil its responsibility of holding polls for steering the country out of the political crisis gripping the country for the past several months.

The current government, however, appears to be divided on the issue of early polls.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, in an interview, hinted at the possibility of elections before the appointment of the new army chief in November, but others in the PML-N and ruling coalition partners insist that fresh elections should be held only after electoral reforms and addressing the economic crisis.

“Politicians are capable of sitting down and making better decisions,” the ISPR director general said as he urged political leaders not to involve the army in these matters.

“Whenever the army is called upon in a political matter, the matter becomes controversial,” he said. He, however, renewed the army’s offer of providing security during elections, whenever they are held.

Gen Iftikhar claimed that the politicians were never invited by the army for meetings, but the army chief meets them whenever they make a request for a meeting.

The ISPR, separately in a rejoinder to former president Asif Ali Zardari’s comments given at an interaction with the media, said the Peshawar Corps was one of the most important military formations and it is led by one of the best generals.

“The Peshawar Corps is a prominent formation of the Pakistan army. It has been playing a leading role in the national war on terror for two decades. The leadership of this important corps has always been in the hands of the best professionals,” the ISPR said.

Though Mr Zardari was not directly named, the construction of the statement clearly appeared to be directed at the former president’s comment who, in reply to a question during media interaction, said that former ISI chief Gen Hamid has already been sidelined (Faiz Hamid bechara tou khudday line hey).

The ISPR statement at the same time referred to comments by other political leaders about Gen Hamid as well. “Recent statements by senior politicians regarding the Peshawar Corps Commander are highly inappropriate. Such statements negatively affect the morale and dignity of the army and the leadership,” it said.

Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, when asked by a journalist on Thursday to comment on Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s remarks that Gen Faiz Hamid could be considered for appointment as the next army chief, said: “It’s good for the nation and military that whosoever becomes the COAS has a flawless personality and no taint on his name.”

She has in the past made more critical statements about Gen Hamid.

Gen Hamid is accused by political leaders of managing the then PTI government’s political matters and arm twisting its opponents when he was heading the ISI.

It is widely believed that army chief’s move to transfer him from the ISI to Peshawar Corps in October caused the rupture in PTI government-military ties that could not be subsequently fixed.

Imran Khan, in a podcast, said he did not want Gen Faiz Hamid to be transferred until the winter of 2021, because of aggravating Afghanistan crisis and opposition intrigues for toppling his government.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022

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