Bilawal asks protesting PTI to spare army chief’s selection week

Published November 20, 2022
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a press conference at Zardari House on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a press conference at Zardari House on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: While questioning the venue and timing of the PTI’s long march, Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Saturday said it was former premier Imran Khan’s “last-ditch effort” to push the institution of army away from its constitutional role towards an unconstitutional role and appealed to the PTI chief to delay his protest till the completion of the process of army chief’s appointment.

Also, the PPP chairman, in respo­nse to a question regarding the possibility of President Arif Alvi, who belongs to the PTI, creating hurdles in the army chief’s appointment process, told a presser that this was the last chance for Mr Alvi to let everything take place according to the law and Constitution after his failed attempt to dissolve the assembly. “If he [the president] tries to create an issue, he would have to face the consequences,” he declared.

“This is my appeal to Khan Sahib to behave sensibly and delay the protest for a couple of weeks so that the constitutional and legal process of the appointment of the army chief can be completed and so that I cannot make an allegation that you [Imran] are doing all this to make the appointment controversial,” the PPP chairman declared while speaking at the hurriedly-called news conference at Zardari House.

“Why has Mr Khan chosen the very week [for the protest] when the appointment file must move to the appropriate ministry for the nomination of the new chief of the army staff?” asked Chairman Bhutto-Zardari in an apparent reference to the Nov 28 retirement date of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa. He said everyone in the country knew as to why Mr Khan had selected Rawalpindi for the protest and on the same dates when the summary for the nomination of the new army chief would be moving.

If such a precedent is set, every party will protest in Rawalpindi every three years, says PPP chairman

The PPP chairman said that if Mr Khan was allowed to set this precedent, then every party would be staging a sit-in in Rawalpindi after every three years. He was referring to the three-year term of the army chief and the headquarters of Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi. It would be “dangerous for the country and the nation” if politicians started raising slogans for their favourite generals in the army, he pointed out.

“Now, we are sending a message to Imran Khan and ‘his backers’. Stop playing this game. Neither Pakistan nor its people can afford this. The precedent you are setting now is very dangerous for Pakistan’s future,” he went on to add.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari alleged that since the ouster of his government, Mr Khan had been making efforts “to sabotage the transition [process] in an institution from controversial to constitutional role”, believing that if it happened then he would not be able to play his role in the country’s politics. He alleged that Mr Khan had been making efforts to either force the government to hold immediate elections or to put the country under martial law, since the ouster of his government through a successful no-confidence resolution in April.

The PPP chairman recalled that in one of his speeches on the floor of the National Assembly at the time of the no-confidence resolution against Mr Khan, he had disclosed that the PTI government had threatened them either to accept early elections or be ready to face martial law. Since then, he said, Mr Khan had made two attempts to fulfill that agenda. According to him, Mr Khan had made the first such attempt when he attempted to create a constitutional crisis in Pakistan through dissolution of the assembly and then by “attacking” Islamabad during a similar long march in May and when the present government was talking to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the revival of its programme.

The PTI chief at that time tried to convince the institution that their “democratic experiment, the transition from a controversial to constitutional role, was a failure” and that either martial law or fresh elections were the only option for them. After failure of these two attempts, he said, Mr Khan was now making a last-ditch effort in this regard, he added.

The PPP chairman praised Gen Bajwa for refusing the offer of the then PM Khan to get a life-time extension. Stating that the PTI’s present “so-called long march” had no “democratic goal”, the young foreign minister alleged that Mr Khan had always done politics with the backing of the “undemocratic forces”. The country had already suffered due to “imposition” of Imran Khan on the nation after the 2018 general elections, he said. However, he said, it was heartening to see the army deciding not to play its controversial role and stay within the constitutional limits and every Pakistani welcomed it. “However, there are few characters, politicians, groups and lobbyists whose politics will be over if this decision [of the army] is practically implemented,” he said, adding that the political future of Mr Khan and some other politicians was linked to the “controversial role” of the institution.

He said the army chief’s appointment was the prerogative of the prime minister and the PPP along with the entire nation would accept the appointment made by him in a constitutional way.

Responding to a question about the possibility of President Alvi creating hurdles in the army chief’s appointment process, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said this was last chance for the president to let everything take place according to the law and constitution, declaring that “if he [the president] tries to create an issue, he would have to face the consequences”.

Asked about the possibility of imposition of a governor rule in Punjab, the PPP chairman said that he would like to advise Mr Khan “to not compel us to make a decision that we do not want to take”.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2022

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