Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has set in the motion the process of choosing the next Army chief and consulted his allies over the key appointment to replace incumbent General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
The decision on the appointment is expected to be made before November 25 when the premier is leaving for Ankara on a two-day visit.
Bajwa, 61, is scheduled to retire on November 29 after a three-year extension. He has ruled out seeking another extension.
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According to the Dawn newspaper, the allies of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) expressed confidence in Prime Minister Sharif over the appointment of the next Army chief in a meeting late Wednesday after the premier received a summary containing names of six lieutenant generals for the posts of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC).
The paper quoted the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) saying that the prime minister presided over a meeting of the heads of political parties, which are part of the ruling coalition.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party-Quaid (PML-Q) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Balochistan Awami Party head Khalid Magsi, Balochistan National Party chief Akhtar Mengal, and National Democratic Movement President Mohsin Dawar, among others, attended the meeting.
Zardari and his son Bhutto-Zardari expressed gratitude to the Prime Minister for taking all allies on board regarding the “important decision”.
“Although it is solely your (PM’s) prerogative to appoint any of the candidates, we are grateful to you
The PML-Q president, during the meeting, said that it was the constitutional right of the premier to appoint anyone from the nominees as the new Army chief.
“We firmly stand by you (on whatever decision you will take on the matter,” said Magsi.
Siddiqui also said his party had full confidence in the Prime Minister.
"We are thankful to you for keeping us on board," he said.
Though Jamiat Ulema-E- Islam Fazal (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman was not present at the meeting of the allied parties due to the oath-taking ceremony of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) governor in Peshawar, he along with son Asad Mahmood, the federal minister for communications, called on the Prime Minister later in the day.
Earlier in the day, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari met Sharif, separately, at the Prime Minister’s House.
Sources in the government told Dawn that Sharif will also preside over a meeting of the federal Cabinet on Thursday to discuss the appointment of the Army chief.
Prior to the meeting, the premier will once again meet some of the government allies as a part of the consultative process.
A meeting between the outgoing Army chief and the Prime Minister is also expected.
The PMO confirmed that it had received the summary from the Defence Ministry for the appointment of the CJCSC and COAS.
The summary containing the names of the generals was sent by the General Headquarters (GHQ) Tuesday night to the Ministry of Defence, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military's media wing, said in a tweet.
According to media reports, six generals in the run for the top slots include Lt-Gen Asim Munir (Quarter Master General), Lt-Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza (Commander of 10 Corps), Lt-Gen Azhar Abbas (Chief of General Staff), Lt-Gen Nauman Mehmood (National Defence University President), Lt-Gen Faiz Hamid (Commander Bahawalpur Corps), and Lt-Gen Mohammad Amir (Commander Gujranwala Corps).
Two of them would be picked by Prime Sharif for promotion and appointment for the posts of COAS and CJCSC before November 29.
The CJCSC is the highest authority in the hierarchy of the armed forces but the key powers including mobilisation of troops, appointments and transfers lie with the COAS which makes the person holding the post the most powerful in the military.
The powerful Army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75-plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in matters of security and foreign policy.
There has been extraordinary interest in the appointment of Bajwa's successor as many believe ousted prime minister Imran Khan's long march is linked to the change of command in the Army.
He has asked his supporters to gather in Rawalpindi on November 26, two days before Gen Bajwa hands over the baton to the new Army chief.
The debate over the appointment of the new chief has intensified since the ISPR confirmed last week that General Bajwa would doff off his uniform on November 29.
The debate is also linked to the current political stalemate stemming from Khan’s long march demanding early elections.
Political observers are of the view that one of the objectives of Khan’s long march is to influence the Army chief's appointment even though Khan has denied such claims.