• Says lawyers have told him ‘a provision can be found’ to this effect
• Khawaja Asif claims PTI chief trying to mend fences with ‘establishment’ for sake of power

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan proposed on Monday that the appointment of the new army chief be made by an elected government, voted to power after a “free and fair election”, adding that a “provision can be found” in the law to make this arrangement work.

Mr Khan, who brought the issue of the army chief’s appointment into the limelight earlier this month, has consistently opposed the appointment of a new chief by the incumbent government led by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a multi-party coalition that ousted Imran Khan through a no-confidence motion in April this year.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the incumbent army chief, is set to retire later this year.

Last week, Mr Khan alleged that Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif wanted to appoint an army chief of their liking to evade accountability.

The statement drew intense flak, with both the government and the military calling out Imran Khan for “scandalising” the selection process.

Subsequently, Imran Khan issued a clarification during a rally in Peshawar on Sept 6, saying he had merely sought the appointment of the chief on merit and that his criticism of the army should be perceived as “constructive in nature”.

A month ago, the PTI chief, however, had underscored the need for snap polls to find a way out of the crisis engulfing the country and played down the issue of the appointment of the new chief. “Right now, the more important issue than the army chief’s appointment is stability and only one thing can bring that — elections.”

“We have to choose [...] do we want stability or a new army chief?” he said in response to a question posed by anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan.

However, in his interview with Kamran Khan on Dunya News on Monday, the former premier said the new army chief should not be appointed by Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif, as both were allegedly involved in graft cases.

“I had said that the post of the COAS was extremely important and the appointment should be made on merit. I will repeat this again and again. But I will also mention that Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are not qualified to make the appointment on merit...every decision these two take is to save their stolen wealth,” Mr Khan alleged.

He, however, added that if the current ruling parties managed to come back to power after free and fair elections, he would have no issue with them appointing a new chief. He added PML-N only had 85 seats in the National Assembly whereas the PTI had over 150 seats.

At this, the anchorperson asked the former premier whether he was proposing an extension in the term of the incumbent army chief, since elections could take up to three months, while the appointment needed to be made in November.

Mr Khan responded that he had not thought about the issue in too much detail. “Lawyers have told me that a provision can be found that a new government can make the appointment after coming to power,” the PTI chief said, adding that it was not a major issue.

When asked to elaborate further, Imran Khan said he did not have any expertise in the matter, but the immediate priority should be rescuing the country from the crisis it currently found itself in. He hinted that he was ready to talk to his opponents on every issue, if they were ready to agree to his demand for fresh elections.

‘Doors of negotiation’

Earlier in the day, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif alleged that the PTI chief was trying to open the “doors of negotiation” with the establishment in his “desperation for power”.

“On one side, he is attacking them [the establishment] and on other hand, he wants to open the doors of negotiations or dialogue as well,” Dawn.com quoted the minister as having told SAMAA TV.

The defence minister said that the recent statements made by Mr Khan showed that he wanted to talk to the establishment at “gunpoint” and “by force”. “He just wants to take his government back, whether it is in the right or wrong way […] this is [his] desperation for power,” Mr Asif alleged.

He went on to say that Imran was using pressure tactics, recalling that before the PTI chief was ousted, he was an “admirer” of the establishment. “At that time, the establishment was fine […] but today, you are abusing and attacking them.”

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2022

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