Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other coalition leaders on Monday castigated PTI chief Imran Khan for levelling "poisonous allegations" against the armed forces and "putting blots" on the appointment of the new army chief.
Their comments come a day after Imran, at a rally in Faisalabad, alleged that the PPP and PML-N were opposing fresh elections, because they wanted to “appoint an army chief of their choice” in November to save their skin in corruption cases.
“They want to bring their own army chief…they are afraid that if a strong and patriotic army chief is appointed then he would ask them about the looted wealth,” the former prime minister said.
“They are sitting [in the government] because they want to bring in an army chief of their choice through joint efforts,” Imran claimed, adding that the army chief should be “appointed on merit…whoever is on the top of the merit list should be appointed” to head the institution.
Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was appointed in 2016, is set to retire in the last week of November. The army chief’s appointment is meant to be for three years, but Gen Bajwa was given an additional three-year term in 2019 after a bit of political drama.
Responding to the PTI chief's statements, PM Shehbaz, in a tweet today, said that Imran's "despicable utterances to malign institutions" were touching new levels every day.
"He is now indulging in direct mud-slinging & poisonous allegations against Armed Forces & its leadership," he said, adding that Imran's "nefarious agenda" was aimed at disrupting and undermining Pakistan.
In a statement on Twitter, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said that the nation was now aware of the person spreading chaos in the country. "Today, everyone knows [who is the] man and the beast.
"This man is determined to weaken the country, but we won't let that happen," he alleged, vowing that the government won't let the state institutions and generals fall prey to Imran's "lust".
The former president also criticised the governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab for not "actively participating in the flood activities", saying that everywhere only the federal government could be seen.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said Imran had proven time and again to be "an unguided missile for the country".
In a statement, he said that targeting senior officials and handing out "certificates of patriotism and traitors" to the members of different institutions were the "hallmarks of this anarchist".
The foreign minister alleged that the PTI chairman was attempting to destabilise the country by inciting "chaos and anarchy". "However, the patriotic forces of Pakistan won’t allow him to succeed in his nefarious designs," Bilawal said.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz called for an end to treating Imran like a political leader.
"He has been launched and funded to wreck and ruin Pakistan, and plunge the nation into [the] pits of misery and despair. He has waged a war on our country by attacking its stability, economy, society, media and now its armed forces," she said.
She added that the country would continue to go downhill if the PTI chief was not "declared and dealt with as a double-dealer by all the stakeholders, including [the] judiciary".
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal tweeted that amid the catastrophic floods, the PTI chairman had resorted to polluting the political space.
"Imran Niazi continues to pollute the political space and push the country towards extreme polarisation and putting blots on all state institutions including the appointment of new COAS? What is his end game? More anarchy & chaos?"
Meanwhile, Minister for Climate Change and PPP leader Sherry Rehman alleged that Imran was spreading hatred against the security agencies without realising it.
"Those who violated the Constitution and plotted against the interests of the country are now calling the Bhutto and Zardari family traitors," she tweeted.
"Now this 'ladla' is accusing PPP and the PML-N of taking concessions by installing their favourite army chief. He [Imran] is giving treason certificates to us by making institutions controversial."
Rehman added that Imran could not prove any of the cases lodged against the coalition government even after keeping the opponents in jail for two years.
More than 33 million people, the minister went on, had been affected by the floods while millions were rendered homeless. "Many towns and villages have been submerged but one man is still calling for elections. Is this person's ego and politics bigger than people's lives?" she added.
From London, PML-N leader Ishaq Dar said that Imran was bent on making the army chief's appointment political. "Will this person decide which chief is a patriot and which one is not?" he asked.
Legal actions in the offing against Imran: minister
In a press conference later in the day, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also lashed out at Imran for questioning the process of the appointment of the army chief, saying the PTI chief's statement was tantamount to disrespect for armed forces whose personnel had been rendering sacrifices for the country for years.
He said it was not the army's work to provide protection to political leaders. "Their only work as per the Constitution is to give security to borders and the country. It is not their oath or commitment to shelter any political leader and if they do so, it will be a deviation from their oath," he added.
The minister said some legal actions were in the offing against Imran, adding a few of them had been initiated.
In response to a question, Asif said it was the prime minister's prerogative [ to appoint COAS] and he will consult the government. "But more importantly, the advice from the army chief and the Pakistan Army will be the top priority."
To another query, the minister said he "prays" that the army should stay away from politics. I hope and wish that their role remains non-political so other institutions could progress further, he added.
Army chief's appointment
The next army chief's appointment is at times mentioned as one of the major subplots in the ongoing political crisis engulfing the country.
Last month, a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader — a member of the federal cabinet — hinted in background discussions that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif could initiate discussions on the appointment by the end of August, and possibly take a decision by mid-September.
The general perception is that he will consult his allies in the ruling coalition before making a final call. A source in the Pakistan Peoples Party, however, suggested that the party may not want to get involved as it is the prime minister’s prerogative to make the decision.
According to Article 243(3) of the Constitution, the president appoints the services chiefs on the recommendation of the prime minister.
Schedule V-A of the Rules of Business, which elaborates the cases to be presented to the prime minister for his approval, states that: “[…] the appointment of, and above the rank of, lieutenant-general in the army and equivalent ranks in the other Defence Services will be made by the prime minister in consultation with the president.”
The manner in which this process plays out, however, is less clearly defined in the rule books. Nor have any specific criteria been laid down for consideration for elevation, except for the vague condition that the general chosen to lead the army should have commanded a corps.
The tradition is that General Headquarters (GHQ) sends a list of the four to five senior-most lieutenant-generals, along with their personnel files, to the Ministry of Defence, which then forwards them to the prime minister to pick the officer he finds best suited to the role.
Theoretically, the defence ministry can vet the names before presenting them to the prime minister, but that does not usually happen and the ministry acts merely as a post office.
The credentials of the generals are then deliberated either at Prime Minister’s Office or in the cabinet. The matter comes down to the prime minister’s ‘informal consultation’ with the outgoing army chief, his own perceptions and his discussions with his closest advisors.