The country, already dealing with massive floods, has recently been swept away by another tide — PTI chief Imran Khan’s remarks regarding the army chief, which continue to sway back and forth between explosive and tame.
While the appointment of a new military head or the extension in service of the current army chief — whose tenure ends in November — is a subject that has been broached by Khan multiple times, of late, the number of times it has been brought up has increased.
In fact, one can see a major U-turn in the party’s stance within a month’s time.
In an interview with GNN aired on August 15, the former prime minister had said that he has “no issue” with the appointment and that it’s a decision the government will make.
Fast forward to September, and in an interview with ARY on the 6th, PTI secretary general Asad Umar said “whoever thinks that he who appoints the army chief will be able to influence the kinds of decisions the army chief makes is clearly not read up on Pakistan’s history”.
Umar said that he has expressed these views multiple times during meetings with Khan.
He downplayed the impression that if the selection of the army chief was done by Nawaz Sharif it would weigh heavily on Khan’s decision making and that it will have a bearing on Pakistan’s future.
He said that the influence that the army chief selection has on the country’s trajectory, in any case, is a view that a majority of Pakistanis share.
“If the chief looks to the right, the entire army turns to the right and if he looks to the left, it turns to the left,” he said, to elaborate, adding: “The chief, is the chief.”
Umar said that he is not saying all this in response to statements by Imran Khan. “Has Khan sahab not said publically before that the best is appointed from among three or four names that are forwarded?”
“He has never tried to imply that within the list of names, there may be some persona non grata on whose appointment there are doubts,” the former minister said.
At this point, one would think the party has left the matter up to the new rulers to decide.
However, on Monday, the former prime minister, while speaking during an interview with a private TV channel, suggested that the appointment of an army chief be deferred until a new government is elected, which should then choose the new COAS.
Then, a day later, after there was much uproar over his statement, Khan denied he had suggested extending the army chief’s tenure.
In a meeting with journalists, Khan said: “I never talked about the extension of the army chief’s tenure, I just proposed deferment of the appointment of the army chief till the new elections.”
During the meeting, the former premier said that the newly elected government should decide the army chief’s selection on merit, adding that he never said who should head the military.
“I did not say anything to elicit a statement from Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR),” Khan said, adding that the two families (Sharif and Zardari families) “should never select the head of the armed forces”.