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Thursday, June 13, 2024  
06 Dhul-Hijjah 1445  

Appointing army chief of your own choice proves costly: Khawaja Asif

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif paid the price
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Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Thursday that Pakistan’s rulers who appointed the army chief of their own choice in disregard of the process in place paid a rather high price.

He said this while speaking to Aaj News host Asma Shirazi on the show Faisla Aap Ka while discussing the controversy surrounding the end of General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure and the appointment of his successor.

He made the observation in response to Shirazi’s question whether Imran wants to appoint the army chief of his own choice. The question is predicated on Imran’s repeated calls for early elections before November, when the period of the current chief of army staff ends. In his many public rallies, Imran has said that the PML-N led government shouldn’t have the authority to appoint the army chief.

“How many people have appointed army chiefs of their own choice? And what price did they pay for it? History shows us,” said the PML-N leader in response.

The last two army chiefs who suspended the Constitution and imposed martial law were both elevated out of turn. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP founder and former prime minister, appointed General Zia ul Haq after retiring seven lieutenant generals ahead of him. Bhutto was later imprisoned and then given the capital punishment for the murder of his political opponent.

While a similar fate didn’t befell PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif, who promoted General Pervez Musharraf over two more senior generals. A year on, Sharif was forced to go into exile with Musharraf taking over in a coup.

“Why do we never learn? Their (army chief’s) loyalty is not with the appointing authority,” he said.

“An appointing authority needs to just discharge its constitutional duty to the best of their ability and knowledge. It should be based on recommendations that have been made by the institution,” he said. “But if you’re going to dwell on how they’re going to deal with you, or protect you, then you are negating the law.”

He said that politicians should place their trust in the people who vote them in power. “Unless you were elected how Imran Khan was,” he said, referring to claims that widespread rigging, including with the result transmission system, enabled Imran to win the 2018 elections.

“This is why he (Imran) keeps talking about the army chief appointment. He wants to keep it in his hand because he thinks this will be the guarantee of his rule.”

He said that systems and structures were in place for the recommendation of the name of the next army chief. “It is the prerogative of the institution to recommend names by seniority that go to the prime minister.”

Asif said that it was important to delink the issue of the appointment of the army chief and its connection to political power.

He referred to a recent statement of General Bajwa that the army would stay out of politics. “If Gen Bajwa is saying this is how it should be, then I will say again that this is extremely welcome. I am ready to put my trust in that.”

He added that it was time to put an end to ‘adventurers’ like Imran Khan, suggesting that he brought political instability.

When asked how could it be ensured that such misadventures are avoided in the future, Asif said that the answer lies in the Constitution.

“There is no other way. I was happy when I was in the Opposition. We were in opposition during the reigns of Musharraf, the PPP and the PTI. But I can’t stand on the street and shout that I want to be in power.”

He said that Imran Khan’s recurring refrain to the army over neutrality was because he wants them to be “on his side”.

Shirazi then asked the defence minister about Imran Khan’s statement that ‘criminals’ should not appoint an army chief. The PTI chief regularly uses the moniker ‘cabal of crooks’ for the PDM leadership, including for PML-N chief and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“The Constitution gives us the power. Time gave us the power,” he said, adding that the tenure was ending during their time in power. “It was in our fate. It was not in his kismet.”

He said that the procedure to appoint the next army chief remains in place and would be followed to the tee.

He said that the state institution would recommend names, and the defence minister would take the dossier to the PM.

He said that he did the same in 2013 and 2016, with five recommendations each time. He said that it was part of the army tradition to recommend five names.

The host then asked whether the requirement for becoming army chief had been amended, and a lieutenant general has to command a corps for one year. This reported change dominated headlines when General Faiz Hameed was appointed Peshawar Corps Commander, with the grapevine suggested that he was being groomed as the next army chief.

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Asif. He said that it was a tradition. “The chief should have commandeered a corps,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure about the length of the tenure.

He said that the process for the appointment of the next army is likely to begin at the start of Novemeber, and there ‘should be enough time for a graceful exit’.

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Army Chief


imran khan

Khawaja Asif

faisla aap ka

Defence Minister

General Qamar Javed Bajwa

Asma Shirazi


Chief of the Army Staff