Federal ministers Rana Sanaullah and Khawaja Asif on Friday separately said the government will announce the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS) early next week, but differed over whether Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s consultations with ruling coalition allies are ongoing or have been completed.
Speaking with Geo News’ Shahzad Iqbal, Interior Minister Sanaullah claimed the name of the next Army chief would be announced within a couple of days. He said the prime minister had already completed the consultation process, adding that the only remaining step was a formal announcement.
Maintaining that appointing the Army chief was solely the prerogative of the prime minister, he said he did not feel it would be appropriate to delay the announcement beyond the middle of next week, as incumbent COAS Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa is set to retire in less than two weeks—on Nov. 29.
Separately, Defense Minister Asif told Geo News’ Shahzeb Khanzada that he expected the name of the next COAS to be made public by Tuesday or Wednesday. Claiming that the formal process for the appointment would commence on Monday, he claimed a change of command ceremony would be held on Nov. 29. He also claimed that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s ongoing long march would suffer a “major blow” the day the government announced its decision.
All eyes on Pindi
Pakistan’s various political stakeholders are all focused on the looming appointment, which has been extensively politicized due to PTI Chairman Imran Khan alleging—multiple times—that the ruling coalition would not pick an Army chief on merit and would be seeking someone who would “facilitate” corruption. While he has sought to step back from this stance in recent days, claiming that his party has adopted a “wait and see” approach, his repeated delaying of his long march to Islamabad is being widely perceived as an attempt to pressure the government into appointing a COAS that he does not disapprove of.
In a recent public address, Khan has also suggested appointing the COAS solely on the basis of seniority, similar to the process that determines the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Differing from this stance, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said his party strongly believes in the internal promotion system of the Pakistan Army. Stressing that all three-star generals are equal and fully capable to head the Army, he reiterated that the prime minister had the prerogative to appoint the next Army chief. He also emphasized that the appointment of the Army chief should not be politicized at any cost, as this would harm the institution.
Similarly, Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said the appointment of the Army chief should be above politics, adding that the criteria set by the Constitution and the law should be followed.
Urging politicians to avoid making the appointment controversial through rhetoric, he advised all politicians to stop commenting on the matter and let the law take its course.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar called on President Arif Alvi, reportedly to confirm that he would not play any role in delaying the appointment of the new Army chief and secure a pledge to end the deadlock on various constitutional matters.
According to sources, Alvi said he would follow Prime Minister Sharif’s advice on the appointment of the next Army chief. The contents of the meeting were seemingly confirmed by PTI Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, who said the president would fulfil his constitutional duty. “Let me make it clear, whatever the president decides, it will have Imran Khan’s complete support,” he added.