Defence czar draws flak from PTI for suggesting the army pick its own chief

Published June 25, 2022
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif speaks during  a <em>Neo TV</em> programme, Bolo Talat Hussain Kay Saath. — Photo courtesy Neo TV YouTube
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif speaks during a Neo TV programme, Bolo Talat Hussain Kay Saath. — Photo courtesy Neo TV YouTube

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has drawn criticism from the PTI over his suggestion that the army appoints its own chief, with Fawad Chaudhry calling him a "danger to Pakistan" and demanding the election of a new government that could make important appointments.

Asif made the suggestion in a Neo TV programme, Bolo Talat Hussain Kay Saath on Thursday, when he was responding to a comment about the PTI's and the PML-N's changing stance on army chiefs.

"This controversy should now end," Asif said, as he recalled that he was the defence minister at the time of the appointment of two army chiefs, former chief of army staff retired Gen Raheel Sharif and incumbent army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Both times, he said, Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister had he had no "personal motive" in those appointments.

Before retired Gen Sharif's appointment, Asif continued, he had sought the then-defence secretary's input regarding the selection of the army chief. The defence secretary was a very honourable man and said any person awarded three stars was suitable for the post, Asif added.

"I am telling you all this so as to explain that this is a very transparent process," he said, criticising PTI chief Imran Khan for "questioning" and "casting doubt" on the appointment of the new army chief in November.

"They are trying to pre-empt [the matter, warning] that this may not happen, that may not happen, and if this happens that may happen," he remarked.

He then said, "Why can't there be a system for this (army chief's appointment) to happen within the institution?"

Asif quickly followed up the suggestion that this was just "loud thinking" on his part and gave the example of the judiciary which he said had a system in place to appoint the chief justice.

"I may come under fire for this on social [media]," he said, adding that the extent to which the army chief's appointment was being discussed in the public realm was unprecedented. "And I believe that this [matter] was over-exposed when general Musharraf took an extension of seven to nine years," he added.

Sharing a clip from the interview on his Twitter, Fawad Chaudhry said: "People like the defence minister are a danger to Pakistan."

He asked if the elected prime minister did not appoint the army chief then was his purpose for being the premier only to make money.

"This PML-N group from 1985 is the biggest hurdle in the way of Pakistan moving forward," he said, calling for the election of a new government that could make important appointments, "which is the people's right".

PTI social media head Azhar Mashwani also reacted to the defence minister's suggestion, saying that he had "openly revealed the real purpose of bringing the PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) in power".

"[He has] suggested that the authority of appointing the army chief should be taken away from the prime minister and given to the serving army chief," Mashwani added.

Journalist Cyril Almeida also reacted to the statement and warned that the move could lead to "fratricide".

"Not sure if @KhawajaMAsif intended to draw attention to one of the arch curiosities of Pakistan — the boys genuinely allow the PM to select a chief … enlightened self-interest perhaps because if the decision is kept inside the institution, it could lead to fratricide," he said on Twitter.

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