Exit strategy

Published November 1, 2022

WITH mere weeks left for army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to retire, controversy is simmering once again over the appointment of his successor. This fight for control over who will get to make the decision has been ongoing since before the PDM and PTI swapped their roles as government and opposition.

Several PDM leaders have confirmed that one of the key motivating factors behind the vote of no-confidence earlier this year was the belief that Imran Khan had already decided on a certain ‘favourite’ general for the top post and, through the appointment, would seek to extend his reign for another term or two. To them, foiling Mr Khan’s plans had been necessary for survival.

Read: Selecting the army chief

Mr Khan, on the other hand, has used the matter as a bargaining chip. Facing an ouster in March, he allegedly offered the current chief an ‘indefinite’ extension in return for help in thwarting the PDM. Now, as the law gives the new prime minister the privilege of choosing the army chief at his discretion, Mr Khan has attempted to block PM Shehbaz Sharif from exercising that right by attacking his government as unfit to make that decision.

He once again proposed an extension, albeit for a shorter period, just weeks ago to have the incumbent stay on till a new government is sworn in and can decide on his successor. Meanwhile, the prime minister claims Mr Khan also approached him through an intermediary for a joint decision on the succession.

Mr Khan has rubbished the backdoor talks claim, and the PDM has made it clear it will not negotiate. The stand-off between the two can turn ugly if not handled firmly.

Read: Who will be the next army chief?

Since he wishes to retain the prerogative to select the army chief exclusively, it is incumbent on the prime minister to prevent further politicisation of the appointment by acting fairly and decisively, while respecting the military’s wish to remain apolitical.

When the army chief provides him with the names of the four or five generals best suited for the job, PM Sharif must set aside other considerations and make his decision strictly based on each candidate’s professional strengths and weaknesses.

The experiments that were tried in the past should not be repeated again. If they are to remain apolitical, the armed forces need a leader who is more concerned about the defence of the country rather than the ambitions of its politicians.

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2022

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