The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Monday took strong exception to the recent remarks by PTI Chairman Imran Khan regarding the appointment of the new army chief, saying that it was "aghast at the defamatory and uncalled for" statement about the institution's senior leadership.
"Regrettably, an attempt has been made to discredit and undermine [the] senior leadership of [the] Pakistan Army at a time when the institution is laying lives for the security and safety of the people of Pakistan every day.
Senior politicians trying to stir controversies on the appointment of the chief of army staff (COAS), the procedure for which is well defined in the constitution, is most unfortunate and disappointing, the ISPR said.
It went on to say that the army's senior leadership had a decades-long, impeccable and meritorious service to prove its patriotic and professional credentials beyond any doubt.
"Politicising the senior leadership of Pakistan Army and scandalising the process of selection of [the] COAS is neither in the interest of the state of Pakistan nor of the institution. Pakistan Army reiterates its commitment to uphold the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan," the statement concluded.
The development comes 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.
COAS 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.
PTI defends Imran's remarks
Responding to the ISPR press release, PTI leader Shireen Mazari termed it "unnecessary".
She said the press release was "of concern because it seems to have misunderstood what Imran said despite clarifications". The ex-human rights minister maintained that the PTI chief had not criticised the military or its leadership in his Faisalabad speech.
PTI's Asad Umar said the context of Imran's statement had already been clarified. "There was never an intent to cause harm to the reputation of the institution or its senior leadership," he said.
He went on to say that the party and its chief had always "fully appreciated" the professionalism and sacrifices of army personnel.
"The emphasis on upholding the principle of merit is consistent with the desire to protect the professionalism of the force which provides security to the nation," he said.
PTI Vice President Fawad Chaudhry said the ISPR would not have felt the need to issue the press release if it had listened to what he had said in Islamabad earlier today.
In his press conference, Chaudhry had attempted to explain and defend Imran's remarks.
Criticising the coalition government and its leaders, Chaudhry said Imran had meant that the decision to appoint the next COAS could not be left to the government since it lacked "political legitimacy".
"We have raised questions on the legitimacy of the politicians who are making decisions," Chaudhry said.
He added that the PTI felt the army should not be involved in the political process.
"There is no doubt about the patriotism of the army's leadership. There can be no doubt or suspicion about it," Chaudhry asserted.
Coalition govt slams Imran
Earlier today, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other coalition leaders castigated Imran for levelling “poisonous allegations” against the armed forces and “putting blots” on the appointment of the new army chief.
In a tweet, PM Shehbaz said 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”.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also lashed out at Imran, saying the PTI chief’s statement was tantamount to disrespecting the armed forces whose personnel had been rendering sacrifices for the country for years.
He said it was not the army’s job to provide protection to political leaders. “Their only job, 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 said, adding that legal action was in the offing against Imran.
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 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.