No decision taken yet about next army chief: PM Shehbaz


ISLAMABAD, NOV 2: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is not in a hurry to make the topmost military appointments and has said that the decision will be taken at an appropriate time.

Talking to The News, the premier said that no decision has been taken so far as to who would be the new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS).

It was also learnt that the military authorities have not yet moved the summary containing a panel of three-star generals for the topmost army appointments. It is the PM’s discretion to appoint the CJCSC and COAS. Generally, the process of initiating the summary for the prime minister, containing the panel, starts in the second half of November unless the PM wants the panel early.

However, the issue of these appointments is informally discussed among the ruling PML-N and its coalition partners. Though the PM is the competent authority, he can consult anyone for these appointments. In the present situation, it is said the premier’s consultation with PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif appears to be really important.

Before announcing the appointment, the PM is also expected to take into confidence his key coalition partners. According to a PMLN source, unlike in the past, the prime minister may have more emphasis on seniority. Though not mandatory, the prime minister may also informally seek the outgoing army chief’s advice.

A senior journalist in a recent tweet suggested that the name of a top lieutenant general would not be considered for promotion and appointment because his retirement date falls just a couple of days before November 29. However, defence sources, when approached, confided to The News that at the time of initiating the summary for the topmost appointments, names of all the most senior general officers are included in the panel and the premier can appoint anyone of them to the key military posts. Generally, three officers are considered for one post.

In order of seniority, the following six officers are expected to be considered for the top military appointments: Lt Gen Asim Munir, Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Lt Gen Azhar Abbas, Lt Gen Nauman Mehmood, Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, and Lt Gen Mohammad Amir.

These appointments always attract a lot of focus and attention from the media, politicians and civil and military bureaucracy. However, this time Imran Khan’s repeated statements demanding the deferment of these appointments until the next elections generated controversy. Khan suggested extending COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure until the next election.

Khan was of the view that these appointments should be made by the future PM. He had said the present government has no right to make these appointments. Strangely, President Arif Alvi also talked about consultation between the government and the Opposition for these appointments.

Not only did Gen Bajwa decline to continue beyond November 29, but the PM and his coalition partners also rejected the demands of Khan and President Alvi, insisting that as per the law and Constitution, it is the discretion of the prime minister to make these appointments.

Of late, the DG ISI in his press conference had disclosed that Khan, during his premiership in March this year, had offered an extension to General Bajwa for an indefinite period to save his government from the opposition’s no-trust move. Gen Bajwa had rejected the offer and refused to interfere in political wheeling and dealing.