Flurry of meetings hints at key decisions to come
ISLAMABAD: As Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s date of retirement draws closer, the concerned stakeholders are already at work, mulling potential options that they believe would best protect their interests.
Hectic consultations are underway in Rawalpindi, London, and Lahore and the next few days are very crucial, according to political sources.
The most important of these meetings took place in Rawalpindi, where the army’s corps commanders met at the General Headquarters on Tuesday. The meeting was presided by Gen Bajwa.
The session is a monthly fixture at GHQ, where the top brass discusses the internal and external security situation as well as professional matters. Two things made this meeting extremely important — the impending change of command in the army and the related debates, both within the institution and outside; and the tense political environment in the country.
Absence of ISPR release after corps commanders’ moot, PM Sharif’s abrupt detour to London indicate events are unfolding at breakneck speed
No media statement was issued by ISPR, though, which has remained tight lipped on the matter despite intense speculation.
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It is rare for ISPR to not issue a press release on the corps commanders conference and only events over the coming days could provide hints about what decisions were taken.
Gen Bajwa’s short trip to Peshawar on Wednesday, where he stayed for a couple of hours and addressed officers and men of Peshawar corps, is being seen as part of his farewell visits to the formations. This shows that the general is sticking to his decision of leaving on Nov 29.
Some retired officers insist that besides deliberations on the institutional process for the selection of Gen Bajwa’s successor, the commanders discussed the political situation and unrelenting criticism of some of the officers by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.
It is said that the army wants a de-escalation with the PTI before the transition takes place so that the new chief takes office in relatively settled times. Therefore, there is pressure on both sides to reach an accord on a date for the next elections, which could theoretically end PTI’s long march and enable political parties to attend to other pressing issues that require urgent attention.
President Arif Alvi is also said to be playing a major role in this renewed effort for ending the political stalemate, having recently met with the military leadership, whose message he delivered to PTI Chairman Imran Khan as well when he went to inquire after his health.
When Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif left Sharm-el-Sheikh on Tuesday night, he tweeted “Off to Pakistan”. But then, he changed his plans and decided instead to stop off in Qatar, from where he took a commercial flight to London to meet his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif.
He only took his personal staff with him to London, while the other members of entourage travelling with him continued onwards to Islamabad.
“The trip to London may help in deciding some of the issues that had been pending for sometime and required face to face meeting with elder Sharif and others who matter in the family,” a PML-N source said.
Those issues include the appointment of the new army chief, matters linked to the next elections, strategy for dealing with PTI, and regaining lost political capital.
It is said that the elder Sharif is not willing to budge and thinks that Imran Khan’s continued confrontation with the army in the absence of an understanding on election date would cause a hemorrhage of PTI’s political capital.
The Sharifs would, however, be talking to their allies on these issues over the next couple days, according to a political source.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan, on his part, met with his top confidantes in Lahore and discussed the backchannel with army. A PTI source said that Mr Khan is adamant there is nothing he can compromise on, and the ball is in the government’s court now.
Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2022