ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Wednesday that the prospects of general elections in the country before the appointment of new army chief this year could not be ruled out.
In an interview with BBC News, he went one step ahead and said there was also a chance of a new government taking office prior to the appointment which was due in November. “The current Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has already made it clear that he is not interested in the extension of his tenure,” Asif said, and added, “I welcome this statement because it has laid to rest all speculations being made in this regard. Before that, General Raheel Sharif, too, had not sought extension in his tenure, either directly or indirectly.”
The minister was of the view that just like was the case with the country’s judiciary, it was now time for institutionalizing the appointment of new army chief as well. “If this arrangement is made, there will be no room for rumours as it will be known beforehand as to who is going to become the next chief. I know who will take oath as the chief justice of Pakistan in 2028,” he added.
Asif went on to add that it was his personal opinion that instead of speculating as to who would be the next chief, it should be ensured that only deserving generals ascend to the post.
Responding to a question whether differences between the former prime minister, Imran Khan, and Pakistan Army over the appointment to a senior post in the army had led to the toppling of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, he said Imran wanted to secure his political interests through the appointment of the new chief of army staff (COAS).
When the BBC correspondent asked whether that was what had led to the ouster of the last government, Asif replied, “No, it is up to the prime minister to select the man for the position from amongst the names of different candidates sent to him.”
Referring to two appointments made in 2013 and 2016, he claimed the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had completely followed the merit and also kept in view the recommendations made by the Pak Army before selecting the person for the post. “Nawaz Sharif did not know General Raheel Sharif. But he knew General Bajwa because the latter was then commanding the Rawalpindi Core. But in both these instances, he respected the recommendations given by the institution,” the defence minister said, adding, “The next appointment will also be on merit. Even General Faiz Hameed will be considered if the Pak Army’s seniority list contains his name.”
“I don’t think either I or Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will have any objection if General Faiz’s name is also mentioned in the list,” he added.
When the defence minister was asked to give his comments on the anti-army rhetoric his party (PML-N) leaders, especially Vice President Maryam Nawaz, frequently indulged in, he replied that it was unfortunate that the country’s politics had stooped so low that fingers were pointed at the Pakistan Army.
However, while referring to last month’s change of the government through a no-trust motion against the PTI government, Khawaja Asif said it was a ray of hope and a sign that a new chapter of supremacy of the constitution could begin, because only in following the constitution lay Pakistan’s security.