• PTI chief says didn’t talk about ‘extension’; Fawad defends ‘practical formula’ to save democracy
• PML-N leader says govt will not link ‘national decisions with political interests’

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: As he came under intense scrutiny for making the appointment of the new army chief controversial after a ‘U-turn’ on his earlier stances, former prime minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said he had not sought an extension for Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, as he only proposed the deferment of the appointment till the general elections.

Mr Khan, in his interview with Kamran Khan on Dunya News, did not explicitly ask for an extension for the serving army chief, but a number of media outlets reported that the proposal floated by the former premier would translate into an extension in the army chief’s tenure.

“I have not thought about this issue in detail,” Mr Khan had told the anchorperson when he asked him about the extension to the incumbent COAS.

“I never talked about the extension of the army chief’s tenure; I just proposed deferment of the appointment of the army chief till the new elections,” Mr Khan was quoted as saying.

The PTI also issued an official statement which claimed that Mr Khan had said that both parties in power, i.e. PPP and PML-N, had a history of appointing their “favourites” and that was the reason he opposed the appointment of the new army chief by the current government.

Imran under fire

The clarification came after Mr Khan received flak from leaders of the PML-N and PPP, who took exception to his remarks about the army chief’s appointment and dubbed them as Mr Khan’s another ‘U-turn’ in an attempt to come back to power.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted that Mr Khan was so “desperate” to return to power that he was linking the appointment of the new chief with fresh elections. “The incumbent government will take a decision on the appointment of a new army chief keeping in view the Constitution and the tradition of the institution. We will not link national decisions with political interests,” Mr Asif said.

Talking to DawnNews, Mr Asif said the selection of the new army chief was the prerogative of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the government’s allies would be taken into confidence. “Consultations will be made with the institution as well, as it would forward the names of recommended officers for the new chief. So far no consultation has been started in this regard,” he added.

PML-N leader Pervaiz Rashid also took Mr Khan to the task over his remarks about the appointment of the new chief. “Now neutrals, traitors and Mir Jaffar have become the apple of his (Imran) eyes and Americans his favourites,” Mr Rashid said.

‘Another U-turn’

PPP leader and former senator Farhatullah Babar, in a series of tweets, lashed out at the PTI chief and said the “anti-establishment posture” of Mr Khan turned out to be mere eyewash.

“There were many, even outside PTI, who hoped that the anti-establishment posture of @ImranKhanPTI was real … Latest U-turn dashed all hopes; real, vague or vain,” Mr Babar said.

“Recently @ImranKhanPTI publicly said that giving extension to the chief in 2019 was his great blunder. Now he’s demanding an extension for the same chief. Why? Did he get a whiff of who @CMShehbaz has in mind as next chief?… Imran wanting the chief’s selection [to be] deferred until after polls means [Imran] pleading for [army chief’s] extension. Is it a change of heart or what?” he said in his tweet while opposing the extension.

The ex-senator wondered whether a change in the former prime minister’s stance meant Mr Khan was ready “to patch up” with the powers-that-be.

Calling the PTI chief out for his multiple ‘U-turns’, the PPP leader said first Mr Khan said that the COAS appointment was not his issue. “Then he said the senior most general should be made chief. Then, [Nawaz] Sharif and [Asif] Zardari shouldn’t appoint a chief. Now he’s pleading with Sharif and Zardari to give extension to Bajwa until after polls,” the PPP leader claimed.

Ex-senator Afrasiab Khattak tweeted: “The extreme politicisation of the COAS appointment epitomises the distortions/deviations brought in [the] governance system by usurpers/putschists to the detriment of the state system, including the military.”

‘Practical formula’

Meanwhile, PTI leaders came to the defence of their party chief. PTI stalwart Fawad Chaudhry termed Mr Khan’s proposal to withhold the appointment till elections a “practical formula” to restore democracy and save the political future of the country. “The current status quo of the establishment should be maintained to call fresh elections,” Mr Chaudhry demanded.

PTI leader Shireen Mazari blamed the “PML-N trolls” and anchorperson Kamran Khan, who conducted the interview wherein the remarks about the army chief were made, for “misquoting” the PTI chief on the issue of the extension. She added, “Problem here is when the anchor wants to assert his own view/agenda despite IK making his position clear on the same issue. Such anchors should do monologues instead!”

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2022

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