Apolitical appointment

November 20, 2022

The appointment of the next chief of army staff has somehow become a development awaited with great suspense

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hief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is set to retire on November 29. Unlesshis tenure is extended – and he has publicly said he is not up for it - a much discussed change of command will then occur.

A lot of speculation has been going on in the media. The names of at least six senior generals have been suggested by somebody for the appointment. Earlier, former prime minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had argued that such an appointment should not be made by the current prime minister. However, the incumbent PM and the government have insist that this is prime minister’s job.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has accused the military establishment of removing him in July 2017 through a disqualification campaign in the courts. Former prime minister Imran Khan too has accused some military officials of pulling strings to ensure that he lost the vote of no confidence in April 2021. The military establishment has denied these allegations.

In the latest round the PTI linked the appointment of a new army chief to its demand for early elections. Since the election of Shahbaz Sharif as prime minister, the PML-N has held that appoint a new army chief is his sole prerogative. The PTI has argued that the current government lacks the mandate for this and insisted that the decision be delayed until after general elections are held and a new government formed.

The PTI has been demanding an early date for general elections. It has also argued the new government should appoint the army chief. The PML-N led government thinks appointing an army chief is the prime minister’s prerogative.

At one stage, the PTI suggested that the current COAS be given a brief extension in his term so that a full-term COAS can be appointed after the general elections. The PTI has also demanded the dissolution of the National Assembly for general elections to be held at the earliest. Gen Bajwa, however, has publicly said that he does not want and will not accept an extension. He has also started farewell visits to various garrisons. However, speculation around whether he can be persuaded to continue may go on until a successor is nominated.

Some analysts say that the PTI is mounting pressure to block the possible appointment of a general it sees as hostile to Imran Khan. However, Khan has denied that he has a preference for any of the eligible generals.He has, however, said that his rivals might try to appoint a general they expect to help them in their design to have him disqualified for public office.

The appointment is expected to be announced in the coming week.

Article 243(3) of the constitution says the president appoints the service chiefs on the recommendation of the prime minister and the Ministry of Defence.The Pakistan Army sends a panel of names from among senior generals for the nomination. No specific criterion has been laid down in the law so that the PM can make a decision in his discretion.

Out of more than a dozen army chiefs appointed so far, only four were the senior most at the time. PMLN governments, that have appointed four army chiefs in the past, are known to have ignored seniority.

The writer is a member of staff and can be reached at vaqargillanigmail.com and waqargi

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