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Published October 6, 2022

WHAT is a routine administrative decision in most other states is, in Pakistan, a much-hyped melodrama that keeps the nation on tenterhooks until the baton actually passes — or remains in the hands of the incumbent. This is so because the post of army chief continues to be the most powerful office in our developing democracy.

In this regard, rumours have swirled and questions have been asked about whether COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa will retire in November, or be granted a second extension. Politicians have themselves helped feed these rumours.

For example, former PM Imran Khan had said he wants a new army chief to be appointed after a “free and fair election”, implying that Gen Bajwa should be given a limited extension.

However, it is welcome that the chief himself has cleared the air where rumours over his extension are concerned. Speaking at an event at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington on Tuesday, the COAS said he would leave office after his term ended, adding that the military has distanced itself from politics, and would keep itself away from politics.

As Gen Bajwa has clarified the extension issue, the government should expedite the selection of his successor so that any remaining speculation about this key post can be quashed.

Read: Who will be the next army chief?

The general’s comment that the military would stay away from politics is also significant as the fact is that the armed forces have dominated politics in this country for most of its history, sometimes ruling directly, at others pulling the strings from behind the curtain.

In this regard, Imran Khan recently told a TV channel that the job of the intelligence agencies was to secure the country, and not “political engineering”. It is welcome that this truth has dawned upon the PTI chief, for he himself is believed to have been the beneficiary of political manoeuvring by unelected actors.

In fact, there are rumours that Mr Khan tried to mend fences with the army chief at the presidency recently, and his constant criticism of the ‘neutrals’ to shed their neutrality implies that he wants them to actively participate in politics.

Yet there can be little disagreement in principle with his call for the security agencies to stay out of politics.

Unfortunately, politicians of all persuasions have themselves often headed to Pindi and Aapbara to canvass those who matter. Therefore, there needs to be consensus amongst all political actors that matters of governance should be the exclusive domain of civilians.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2022

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