New army chief to be named before PM’s Turkiye visit: Khawaja Asif
As the PM’s Office received the much-awaited summary, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Wednesday said he expected the new army chief would be appointed before Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s visit to Turkey, starting Nov 25 (Friday).
Khawaja Asif, in an informal chat with reporters, said the formalities, the procedure laid down in the law would likely take a day. However, he expected that the process would be completed before the prime minister’s scheduled two-day visit to Turkiye on the invitation of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
When asked whether the matter would be discussed with the cabinet, the minister replied that he was unaware of that as it was a technical matter.
However, Khawaja Asif 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 in the day. “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.”
Khawaja Asif 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.
Amid the prevailing uncertainty, there are many reports, rumours and analysis. One of the reliable reporters, Hassan Ayub, in a tweet, quoting government sources, said that the decision would be made today (Wednesday).
Earlier, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Wednesday confirmed that they had received the summary for the purpose from the Ministry of Defence.
In a tweet, the official Twitter account of the PM Office said the document contained a panel of names for the appointment of the new chief of army staff (COAS) and the chairman joint chief of staff committee (CJCSC).
“The prime minister will take a decision on the appointments as per the laid down procedure,” the early morning statement said.
Also on Wednesday morning, Khawaja met Shehbaz as it is believed that they discussed matters pertaining to the appointments.
Meanwhile, a special meeting of the ruling alliance has been convened on Wednesday evening, in which all the party heads would participate for discussions on various political issues.
On Tuesday, former president Asif Ali Zardari called on Shehbaz as they had a detailed discussion on the current political scenario. Interestingly, the summary was received soon after their meeting.
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, Khawaja Asif tweeted the same late on Tuesday night that the defence ministry had been forwarded to the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office. “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.
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.”
Also Tuesday, the defence minister during a talk show 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. In fact, Abbasi said that delaying the summary was a violation of the constitution.
However, the defence minister said he had conveyed to Abbasi that his concerns would be allayed.
Meanwhile, a federal cabinet meeting has been scheduled for Thursday (tomorrow). It is reported that the huddle was convened for the very purpose of the new army chief’s appointment.
The prime minister is also 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, after making the choice, would 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.
Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa is retiring at a time when PTI Chairman Imran Khan is asking Shehbaz to announce snap elections, a demand that the coalition government has rejected, saying the next parliamentary vote will take place in 2023 as scheduled. Gen Bajwa became army chief in 2016 and Khan extended his service for three years.
It is widely believed that Lt-Gen Asim Munir, a former spymaster, could be appointed as Gen Bajwa’s successor if the senior most general is elevated. Sharif has the authority to pick any general from the panel of generals recommended to him by the military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its 75-year history.