• Only PM to appoint army chief ‘at any cost’, London huddle decides
• Sharifs agree not to accept Imran’s demand for snap elections
• Nawaz gets diplomatic passport valid for five years
LAHORE: As crucial discussions among various stakeholders around the next army chief’s appointment gain momentum within and outside the country, the Sharif brothers have reportedly decided in a London huddle that the prime minister will not buckle under any ‘pressure’ to make the all-important appointment — come what may.
Meanwhile, it emerged on Thursday that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had been issued a diplomatic passport, paving the way for his impending return to the country.
In the face of looming pressure from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan to appoint a new army chief that would be acceptable to him, and announce early polls, both PM Shehbaz Sharif and his elder brother Nawaz have decided that the powers of the premier to appoint the army chief will not be surrendered at any cost, a reliable source privy to the talks between the two brothers in London told Dawn on Thursday.
Insiders said that the prime minister had reportedly flown to London to place the options he was conveyed by certain quarters before his elder brother in the context of the fast-changing political scenario.
However, the source said both brothers agreed not to give in to Mr Khan’s demand for snap elections.
“PM Shehbaz told Nawaz that almost all Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) parties are on the same page over the premier’s powers to appoint the army chief and complete the incumbent government’s tenure till August 2023. They (PML-N and allied parties) are even ready to sacrifice their government, but will not budge from their stance,” the source maintained.
Nawaz’s children — Maryam, Hassan and Hussain — were also present in the meetings.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also confirmed to a private TV channel that both Sharif brothers discussed the appointment of the army chief.
Editorial: A state of anarchy
A PML-N insider said the coalition government had ‘certain pressures’ from some quarters over the issue of army chief’s appointment and fresh polls. “That is why Mr Shehbaz reached out to the party supremo to decide whether to accept some demands or not,” he said.
The prime minister had rushed to London on Wednesday on his way back from Egypt to have the ‘final word’ from his elder brother and party’s supreme leader, who has been in a self-imposed exile for three years, over the appointment of the new army chief. Sources said an extension to Gen Bajwa was also discussed during the meeting. Gen Bajwa’s tenure is set to end on Nov 29.
This was Mr Sharif’s third visit to the UK since taking over as premier in April this year.
Ousted prime minister Imran Khan has on several occasions lambasted the PM for discussing the crucial appointment with a “proclaimed offender” (Nawaz Sharif), saying it violated the Official Secrets Act and was a breach of his oath.
However, a couple of days ago, Mr Khan appeared to have changed his stance when he told journalists in Lahore that he had no issue if the next army chief was appointed by the Shehbaz government. When asked whether he had demanded that the appointment be made in consultations with him and/or his party, the PTI chief had said: “No… they can appoint whoever they want.”
Earlier, in several public meetings and remarks made over the past several months, Mr Khan had declared that “the Sharifs and the Zardaris” were unfit to make the appointment to the top military office on the basis that “thieves cannot be allowed” to do so.
He alleged that Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif wanted to appoint the next army chief of their choice to evade accountability.
He had also proposed an extension to Gen Bajwa till the next elections were held. “The new army chief should be appointed by the premier elected in the wake of fresh polls,” Khan had said. He had said the appointment should be made by an elected government, voted to power in a free and fair election, and that a “provision can be found” in the law to make this arrangement work.
Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb chose not to comment on the discussions between the Sharif brothers when Dawn approached her.
Nawaz gets diplomatic passport
Meanwhile, PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif was reportedly issued a diplomatic passport with a five-year validity, it emerged on Thursday.
A senior Interior Ministry official told Dawn the previous such passport issued to Nawaz had expired on Feb 16 last year.
“A red passport bearing number BV5128363 with a five-year validity was issued to the PML-N supreme leader on Feb 18, 2016,” he said.
Under the rules, former presidents, prime ministers, Senate chairmen, National Assembly speakers, chief justices, governors, chief ministers, ministers and ministers of state, special assistants to the prime minister and attorneys general were entitled to diplomatic passports, but the previous PTI government had refused to renew Nawaz’s passport saying absconders were not entitled to the privilege.
Earlier on April 23, Nawaz had been issued an “ordinary” green passport with a 10-year validity in Islamabad.
Iftikhar A Khan in Islamabad also contributed to this report.
Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2022