Pakistan

Govt seeks to quell speculation on next COAS selection


Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif returned home on Monday after his extended stay in London where he was believed to have held closed-door consultations with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif and other leaders on the appointment of a new army chief.

But contrary to claims that a decision has been taken to appoint the senior-most general as the next army chief, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif dismissed such claims.

“Holding consultations on the appointment of the army chief is the prerogative of the prime minister. However, no consultation has been held on the matter so far,” the minister said, insisting that no final decision had been taken either on the appointment of a new army chief.

Speculations were rife following Shehbaz’s informal meetings with PML-N bigwigs in London that the principle of seniority would be taken into account for the appointment of new army chief. Many then have started drawing their own conclusions by mentioning certain names as successor of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The debate over the appointment of the new chief has intensified since the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the military, confirmed last week that Gen Bajwa would doff off his uniform on November 29 at the completion of six-year tenure.

The debate is also linked to the current political stalemate stemming from former prime minister Imran Khan’s long march. Political observers are of the view that one of the objectives of Imran’s long march is to influence the army chief’s appointment though he has denied such claims.

However, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman has questioned the legitimacy of the current prime minister to appoint the army chief. He has been consistently saying that merit should be followed in such key appointments, while questioning how an absconder would be allowed to make the decision.

But the defence minister, who was also in London, played down any closed-door huddles in England, insisting that the prime minister would make the final call. He went on to say that no decision had been taken yet and that no summary had been moved either.

Read Constitution to be followed in COAS’s appointment: PM

Separately in an interview with a private news channel, Khawja Asif said one of the senior generals to be mentioned in the seniority list would be appointed as the new Army chief.

He ruled out the possibility of the government picking the next army chief beyond the seniority list to be sent by the army though he said there were precedents when the number 7 was appointed the army chief.

It is believed that the army as an institution does not want any controversy as far as the appointment of new army chief is concerned. It is not a law but the outgoing chief also gives his recommendation to the prime minister for his successor.

In 2013 and 2016, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had ignored the recommendations of outgoing army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and Gen Raheel Sharif. Against the wishes of Gen Kayani, Nawaz picked Gen Raheel in 2013 as the army chief. In 2016, Nawaz appointed Gen Bajwa as the new chief ignoring Gen Raheel’s nominee.

Gen Raheel Sharif was number 3 on the seniority list, while Gen Bajwa was at number 4 when they were picked for the coveted job. One thing common in both those appointments was that they were not discussed or debated much before their elevations to four-star general.

Some observers believe that while the government is indicating that the principle of seniority may take precedence this time, the possibility of a surprise or an emergence of a dark horse cannot be ruled out.

Given the past practice, the ministry of defence will send a list of top five generals to the Prime Minister Office for the appointment of chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the chief of the army staff. However, the prime minister can ask for more names if he is not satisfied with the list.

The summary for the appointments of key slots in the military will likely be moved closer to the retirement date of Gen Bajwa. The formal announcement is likely to be made only a few days before the change of command.

Following are the top five generals after Gen Bajwa: Lt-Gen Asim Munir, QuarterMaster General, Lt-Gen Sahir Shahmshad Mirza, Corps Commander Rawalpindi, Lt-Gen Azhar Abbas, Chief of General Staff, Lt-Gen Numan Mahmood, President National Defence University and Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed, Corps Commander Bahawalpur.


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