• Shehbaz speaks to Fazl, will formally consult PDM allies over the next couple of days
• Zardari says all candidates ‘equally capable’
• Imran says amendment to army act will be challenged

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday initiated the keenly anticipated consultations with his government allies on the all-important appointment of a new army chief, even as Defence Minister Khawaja Asif revealed that a name would be announced by Tuesday or Wednesday.

On the other hand, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said consultations had been completed and the new chief would be appointed in a day or two.

In a significant development, Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the PPP — the PML-N’s biggest ally in the government — said his party believed in the promotion system for the army and that the top army boss’s appointment would be made by the prime minister as per the Constitution.

He said the appointment should not be politicised otherwise it could harm the institution. “All three-star generals are equal and capable [to hold the office],” he added.

Meanwhile, sources said Prime Minister Sharif, who is currently quarantined after testing positive for Covid-19, has spoken to Pakistan Democratic Move­ment (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on the army chief’s appointment.

They said a formal meeting of the prime minister with the Maulana and Mr Zardari on the matter was expected on Saturday or Sunday.

The defence minister told Geo News on Friday that the paperwork the regarding appointment of the new army chief would be started on Monday and the appointment made on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The induction ceremony of the new army chief will take place on Nov 29, he added.

The tenure of incumbent chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is ending on Nov 29 and, according to the laid down procedure, the army proposes a panel of names of the probables for the slot and a summary is sent to the prime minister through the Defence Ministry to make the appointment.

Prime Minister Sharif recently paid a private visit to London where he consulted his brother and PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif regarding the army chief’s appointment. Federal ministers had said that after returning to the country, the PM would take all the coalition partners into confidence on the decision made in London.

Defence Minister Asif said Nawaz had taken all the party decisions in the recent past by taking their allies on board.

Responding to a question if the army and the government were on the same page and who would be the next chief, the minister said the government could not ignore the significance of the army in the system. He said there were many military interventions in the 75-year history of the county.

“If they [army] have become neutral, we should accord them respect and give them a chance to get rid of the 75-year baggage,” he maintained.

Talking about the proposed amendments to the Army Act, he said it was a pending issue that was to be addressed under the Supreme Court’s decision at the time the incumbent army chief was given a one-year extension in his service.

“The amendment has nothing to do with the appointment of a new COAS as it can be done in three to four months,” he claimed.

Earlier, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had said: “I believe the prime minister has completed this process (of consultation about the army chief’s appointment) and will bring it to paper today or tomorrow or the next two days, [it] takes no time.”

Sanaullah said any delay in the matter would not be “appropriate” and the next army chief appointed in the next couple of days.

He also alleged that the purpose of the PTI’s long march on Islamabad was to influence the appointment and not snap elections. “The long march is not really present anywhere — it’s only on the media,” he added.

Meanwhile, PTI Chairman Imran Khan alleged that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif wanted to influence the appointment of the next army chief.

“The army chief is a professional soldier [but] Nawaz tries to turn that person into the Punjab police chief. I know Nawaz will tell the army chief to somehow get rid of Imran Khan,” he claimed, adding the PML-N leader was not “used to playing with a neutral umpire”.

‘Vested interests’

During his media talk at his Zaman Park residence in Lahore as well as addressing a rally of long march participants in Gujar Khan via video link, Mr Khan alleged Nawaz also tried to bribe former army chief Gen Asif Nawaz with an expensive car at the Murree Governor House, but the offer was refused.

He further suggested that the most senior officer should be appointed the army chief – on the lines of appointment of the chief justice of Pakistan.

“[PML-N supremo] Nawaz Sharif wants to appoint an army chief who will disqualify me and get him (Sharif) exonerated from all corruption cases and then bring him to power,” he further alleged, adding Nawaz had always appointed himself.

The former premier also said the incumbent government was amending the Army Act for its vested interests. “The PDM government wants to bring down the status of Pakistan Army to the level of Punjab police,” he remarked, and added that the PTI would challenge the proposed amendment in courts.

The PTI chief also denied speculation that he met Gen Bajwa in Lahore as part of his party’s backdoor contacts and added that President Dr Arif Alvi had held a meeting with the army’s top boss on the one-point agenda of “early free, fair and credible general elections”.

Separately, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said President Alvi would fulfil his constitutional responsibility in the appointment of the army chief.

“Let me just clarify that whatever step the president takes will have complete backing from Imran Khan,” he tweeted.

Mansoor Malik in Lahore also contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2022

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