• ISPR outraged by Imran’s remarks, warns against ‘scandalising’ appointment of new COAS
• PDM fears bid to pit citizens, military against each other; Asif terms PTI chief ‘security risk’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan’s comments about the appointment of the next army chief have sparked widespread anger among political, judicial and social circles, with the military firmly rejecting the remarks as “defamatory”.

“Pakistan Army is aghast at the defamatory and uncalled-for statement about the senior leadership of Pakistan Army by chairman PTI during a political rally at Faisalabad,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the armed forces’ media wing, said in a statement on Monday.

The ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance termed the remarks an attempt to pit the public and the army against each other and clear a path for clashes within the rank and file of the armed forces.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, PPP leader Asif Zardari and a host of other politicians also reacted sharply to Mr Khan’s remarks.

Responding to the PTI chief’s statements, PM Shehbaz said in a tweet that Imran’s “despicable utterances to malign institutions” were touching new levels every day.

In a statement on Twitter, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari said: “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”.

“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.

‘Timed to coincide’ with consultations

Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is set to retire in November, and the process for the appointment of his successor is set to begin soon. Mr Khan’s statement, therefore, appeared to be timed to coincide with the start of the consultations over the next army chief’s appointment.

The former prime minister had, at a rally in Faisalabad on Sunday, said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his allies in the coalition government wanted to appoint an army chief of their choice to avoid corruption cases.

“They fear that a strong and patriotic army chief would question their corruption,” he asserted.

This comment was seen among many as questioning the loyalty of some of the top generals, which created resentment within the army ranks.

“Regrettably, an attempt has been made to discredit and undermine senior leadership of Pakistan Army,” the ISPR statement said, reminding about the sacrifices rendered by the armed forces in the war against terrorism.

“The senior leadership of the army has decades-long impeccable meritorious service to prove its patriotic and professional credentials beyond any doubt,” it further said, warning that politicising the army’s top brass and scandalising the appointment process could undermine the interests of the country and the military.

The ISPR stated that the procedure for the appointment of an army chief was well defined in the Constitution.

According to Article 243(3) of the Constitution, the president would appoint the services chiefs on the recommendation of the prime minister. The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020, meanwhile, stated an officer of the rank of a general could be appointed as the army chief for a tenure of three years, which could be extended.

The Pakistan Army, the ISPR statement said, reiterated its commitment to uphold the country’s Constitution.

Meanwhile, at a press conference later in the day, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif called Imran Khan “a security risk” and warned of protracted litigation over his controversial remarks.

Rejecting the PTI chief’s remarks that the government’s interest in appointing the next army chief was in protecting its corruption, the minister stressed the army did not protect anyone’s corruption. He reiterated the assertion that the military should not be dragged into politics.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2022

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