rime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Thursday advised President Arif Alvi to appoint Lt Gen Asim Munir as the new chief of army chief and Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Munir was the most senior lieutenant general on the panel recommended by the Ministry of Defence and has an impressive service record. Mirza was the most senior corps commander. However, pressure on the federal government is likely to still persist as the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s long march is on the roads and the financial crisis is deepening.
Earlier, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the incumbent COAS, had urged political leaders to move on for the country’s sake. In his speech at a Martyrs’ Day ceremony at the General Headquarters, Gen Bajwa said he had often wondered why the Indian army, which carried out the most human rights violations in the world, was very seldom a target of criticism at home. “In contrast, our army, is busy serving the nation day and night, is often a subject of criticism,” he said. “A major reason for this is the army’s interference in politics for the last 70 years. It is unconstitutional. This is why in February last year the army, after great deliberation, decided that it would never interfere in any political matter. I assure you that we are adamant on this position and will remain so.” He said it was unfortunate that instead of welcoming the military’s decision, “several segments [of society] used very inappropriate and undignified language in criticising the army.”
“Criticising the army is a right of the [political] parties and the people, but the language used [should be appropriate],” he said. He said the army had initiated its process of “catharsis” and expected that political parties would follow suit and reflect on their behaviour. “The fact is that there have been mistakes made by every institution, including political parties and the civil society.” Gen Bajwa said the country was facing serious economic issues and no single party could steer the country out of the current crisis. “Political stability is vital… The time has come for all political stakeholders to set aside their egos, learn from past mistakes, move forward and take Pakistan out of this crisis.”
After the government announced on Thursday that a summary for the appointment of the army chief and the CJCSC had been sent to President Arif Alvi, the PTI issued a hand out saying that President Alvi would visit Lahore to discuss the matter with party chief Imran Khan. Alvi’s meeting with Khan appeared to be an attempt to create the impression that the PTI chairman’s endorsement mattered in this regard.
PTI stalwart Fawad Chaudhry told the media after the meeting, “President and Imran Khan discussed the appointments in the light of constitution and law.” Interestingly, President Alvi is bound by the constitution to act on the prime minister’s advice, and did in the evening.
In his goodbye speech Gen Bajwa reiterated that Imran Khan’s narrative about a foreign conspiracy to oust him from power was baseless. Pakistan Army cannot and has never supported a foreign conspiracy. It has always stood against and foiled such conspiracies.
The PTI has set up a small tent city in Rawalpindi. Khan will continue breathing fire to press the government to announce immediate elections. However, the government looks determined to stay on.
Khan had tried to strengthen his narrative after an attempt on his life during the long march in Wazirabad by asserting that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and an army officer had hatched the conspiracy to kill him. He had also said that there were other assailants besides the person caught at the scene who has stated that he was a lone wolf and had wanted to kill Khan for ‘misleading the people.’
However, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) whose head and members have been repeatedly changed by the Punjab government, in its findings on Wednesday, painted a different picture. A senior official privy to the investigation has told The News on Sunday, “The JIT could not find any trace of a second attacker. There were many police officers deployed on the rooftops around Khan’s truck.”
“Some bullets were fired by a guard present on the truck. The team is looking for all guards and a ballistics examination of their weapons will be dome to find out if a bullet shot from the truck killed Moazzam, a PTI supporter, who had died on the spot.” If the JIT submits such a report, it will be another blow to Khan’s narrative.
The PTI has set up a small tent city in Rawalpindi. Khan will likely continue to breathe fire to press the government to announce immediate elections. However, the government looks determined to stay on.
Advisor to Prime Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira says, “A political activist believes in dialogue to resolve any issue. Khan cannot compel the government to meet his demands by simply blocking roads and staging sit-ins. He will have to come to the negotiation table to resolve the issues. If he does, we are ready to discuss all issues with him.”
Khan, in case of failure to achieve his target, might have been left with no option but to come up with, what he claims, will be a ‘stunning’ move. It might be another long march from Lahore to Karachi. He may also announce the dissolution of provincial assemblies in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In such a scenario, the Election Commission will be bound to hold elections to those assemblies within 90 days. If this happens, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) parties in the ruling coalition will face serious problems. If the PDM then decides that the elections to the National Assembly and the other two provincial assemblies will be held according to the original schedule, they will have to contest elections in the KP and the Punjab where the PTI will be in a good position to cash in on Khan’s popularity. If the PTI wins the two provinces, it will be an uphill task for the PDM components including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to win a majority of seats in the National Assembly because the Punjab has the lion’s share of National Assembly seats. The federal government might therefore consider early elections to all assemblies.
Come elections, current popularity and swing voters will matter the most as the army has decided not to interfere in politics any longer.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher ofjournalism and analyst