• Defence minister claims govt is ahead of schedule, has plenty of time to make up its mind
• Tells NA they will ‘take on’ Imran after army chief’s selection process is wrapped up
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday sought a defence ministry summary for the appointment of the new army chief, along with the service dossiers of all prospective candidates, as the government seems set to name outgoing Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s successor by Friday.
Speaking in the National Assembly, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said his ministry had received the prime minister’s letter, asking for the initiation of the appointment process on Monday, which had been forwarded to General Headquarters.
He said the summary, along with the service dossiers of the senior-most lieutenant generals proposed for elevation and appointment as chief of army staff and chairman joint chiefs of staff committee, was likely to be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office within two days.
Speaking on a point of order, he said it was possible that the process of the army chief’s appointment would be completed in two to three days.
Blaming the media for giving the matter too much hype, Mr Asif said: “The media itself in a state of confusion…. I request them from the floor of this house to maintain the sanctity of the process”.
The defence minister believed that the commotion being witnessed in the political domain would fizzle out once a new army chief was appointed, after which they would “take on” Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, who has called on his supporters to hold a sit-in in Rawalpindi on Nov 26.
He also lashed out at Imran Khan for “causing damage” to the honour and prestige of state institutions after being ousted from office.
“Today, an institution [army] is categorically stating that it has decided to give up its political or unconstitutional role and has made the announcement that it will play its constitutional role of defending the motherland, but Imran Khan has made their neutrality a curse,” he said, an apparent reference to speeches by Mr Khan where he has attacked the military establishment over their decision to stay neutral during no-confidence proceedings against him earlier this year.
The minister regretted that the PTI chairman was attacking that institution that had extended him “unconditional support” for nearly four years.
Referring to a recent speech by the PTI chief, the minister regretted that the former prime minister had openly criticised the establishment for not coming to his rescue at the time, with Mr Khan saying that the establishment could have prevented his ouster.
“This was nothing but an invitation to [the establishment] to intervene and prevent us from taking a constitutional step, only to save his government,” he said.
Earlier in the day, sections of the media speculated that the summary for the appointment of the chief of army staff had already reached PM Office. Mr Asif, however, told reporters after a meeting with the prime minister that there was no summary as yet.
“We are not under pressure, nor are we in a hurry. The process is expected to be completed by Nov 25,” he asserted.
Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa is retiring on Nov 29, while Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Nadeem Raza would retire on Nov 27.
According to Article 243(3) of the Constitution, the president of Pakistan appoints the services chiefs on the recommendation of the prime minister.
Although Schedule V-A of the Rules of Business, which elaborates the cases to be presented to the prime minister for his approval, mentions the prime minister as appointing the services chiefs in consultation with the president, that rarely happens and is unlikely to take place this time as well.
It is expected that PM Shehbaz, while using his discretionary power, will choose the new army chief and chairman of the joint chiefs, and accordingly advise the president to appoint them.
But it is feared that the government could be short of time, as far as these appointments are concerned.
The general perception is that the president has to accede to the prime minister’s advice, but the titular head can take his time mulling over the decision.
Article 48 of the Constitution states: “In the exercise of his functions, the President shall act [on and] in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet [or the Prime Minister] [Provided that [after fifteen days] the President may require the Cabinet or as the case may be, the Prime Minister to reconsider such advice, either generally or otherwise, and the President shall, within ten days, act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration.”
The senior-most generals, who could be considered for elevation, include 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 (President NDU), Lt Gen Faiz Hamid (Commander Bahawalpur Corps), and Lt Gen Mohammad Amir (Commander Gujranwala Corps).
One complication, however, is that the senior-most officer, Gen Munir, is retiring on Nov 27.
The defence minister, however, believes that time wouldn’t be an issue. “We are within the timeline set by the government for the appointment,” he said during an appearance on the Geo News show Capital Talk.
Blurred ‘constitutional’ lines
Stating before the National Assembly that “all components of the power structure” were responsible for the present state of affairs in the country, the defence minister specifically asked politicians to provide “an opportunity to [the people in] the military establishment to fulfill their pledge that they will stay neutral.”
The defence minister stated that in the past 75 years, the lines drawn by the Constitution about the role of the state institutions had become “blurred.” In the past, he said, the politicians were mainly responsible as they had kept on provoking the establishment to intervene. Similarly, he said, the bureaucrats should also share this responsibility as “they had remained hand in glove with both, the establishment and political governments.”
Moreover, he said, the military establishment could also not be spared as it had ruled the country directly for 37 years, and continued to manage affairs indirectly even when not in power.
“The judiciary also has nothing to feel proud of, if we look into history,” he added.
The National Assembly will meet again on Thursday evening.