Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Wednesday said he expected the new army chief to be appointed before Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif left for Ankara on Nov 25.
In an informal talk with reporters hours after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) confirmed it had received the summary for the appointment of the chief of army staff (COAS) and the chairman joint chief of staff committee (CJCSC), Asif said: “The formalities, the procedure laid down in the law will likely take a day”.
Asif said he expected the matter to be finalised before the premier was scheduled to leave for Ankara on a two-day visit at the invitation of Turkish President Reccip Tayyip Erdogan.
When asked whether the matter would be discussed with the cabinet, Asif said he was “unaware” of this as it was a “technical” matter. He reiterated that the matter would be decided once the formalities were completed.
He also declined to comment on whether the new army chief would be the senior-most candidate. “I don’t know. You can ask someone else [but] I don’t know.”
The minister went on to say that the prime minister would also take the coalition government into confidence regarding the appointments during a meeting scheduled later today. “And if a cabinet meeting happens, then the cabinet will also be taken into confidence.”
“Article 243 does not mention the cabinet,” one of the reporters remarked. According to Article 243(3) of the Constitution, the president appoints the services chiefs on the recommendation of the prime minister.
“I don’t know that many articles, you should know,” he responded.
The minister was also asked about whether the PTI would call off its long march after the appointment was finalised. “I don’t want to speculate but the uncertainty prevailing over the past few months will end once the issue is settled in one or two days.”
“The prime minister will leave day after tomorrow in the evening. So it will be settled before then,” he said.
Asif also lamented the media coverage of the issue. “This is a process with its own sanctity […] it should not have been a part of public debate.”
He also refuted reports that a summary was received by the government containing four names on which objections were raised. “That is incorrect,” he said, requesting the media fraternity to avoid unnecessary speculation.
“The media has been representing vested interests. I think the media shouldn’t be partisan,” he said.
PMO receives summary
Earlier today, the PMO confirmed that it had received the summary from the Ministry of Defence with a “panel of names” for the appointment of the new COAS and the CJCSC.
“The prime minister will take a decision on the appointments as per the laid down procedure,” the early morning statement said.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had tweeted the same late on Tuesday night, saying that the summary had been forwarded to the PMO from the defence ministry. “The rest of the steps will be completed soon,” he said.
The development comes hours after the military confirmed that it had dispatched the summary to the defence ministry.
Although multiple ministers spent Tuesday denying the impression that the summary had been received by the PMO, the brief missive from Inter-Services Public Relations simply stated: “GHQ has forwarded the summary for selection of CJCSC and COAS, containing names of 6 senior most Lt Gens, to MoD.”
Although the communique did not mention which six names have been forwarded, it is believed that the six men currently in the running to be the next chief of army staff are (in order of seniority) Lt Gen Asim Munir (currently Quarter Master General), Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza (Commander 10 Corps), Lt Gen Azhar Abbas (Chief of General Staff), Lt Gen Nauman Mehmood (NDU President), Lt Gen Faiz Hamid (Commander Bahawalpur Corps), and Lt Gen Mohammad Amir (Commander Gujranwala Corps).
Earlier, participating in a TV talk show, the defence minister said there were no differences between the army and government and the concerns being expressed by various quarters in that regard were unfounded.
A day earlier, several PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, had indicated that the army was impeding the process.
But the defence minister said he had conveyed to Abbasi that his concerns would be allayed.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is, moreover, expected to hold a consultation with outgoing army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday on the selection of his successor. It is a convention that the prime minister holds this discussion with the outgoing chief, however, it is described as “informal consultation”.
A special meeting of the federal cabinet has also been convened for Thursday to deliberate on the appointments. The government had earlier planned to complete the process by Friday.
The prime minister would after making the choice advise President Arif Alvi to appoint the general as the next army chief. It remains to be seen if the president would agree with the advice or send it back for reconsideration.