ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart Khawaja Asif has said that it cannot be ruled out that the government agrees to go to elections before the appointment of the new army chief, who will be replacing the incumbent chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in November
The federal minister made these remarks in an interview published on BBC Urdu website on Wednesday.
Asif said it was also possible that by the time the appointment of the new chief is made, the new government would have already replaced the caretaker set-up after the election.
Replying to a question about the extension to the army chief, Asif said Gen Bajwa has already made it clear that he would not seek another extension.
It may be noted here that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government led by Imran Khan had granted a three-year extension to the COAS in 2019. Gen Bajwa is set to retire on November 29 this year.
In a question about former ISI chief and Peshawar Corps Commander Lt General Faiz Hameed, Asif said the government would “definitely consider” him for the post of the army chief if his name was on the seniority list.
Asif said the prime minister cannot ask the army or the defence ministry to change the names in the list forwarded to him for the appointment of the army chief.
About the PML-N government that came to power amid an economic turmoil with the help of its allies, Asif said the PML-N took a “great risk” to form the government. He added nobody “pushed us [to form the government] we took this leap ourselves” as it was “necessary” to take this risk.
He said that had Imran Khan stayed in power for 14 more months the damage caused to Pakistan would have been “irreparable”. He said the conditions in Pakistan at present were “precarious” but Imran’s government was “definitely” heading towards disaster.
In response to another question about whether Imran’s government was sent packing over the COAS appointment issue, the minister said Imran wanted to have his own way over the appointment of the new chief to “ensure his political interest and prolong his tenure”.
However, he rejected the impression that the PTI chief was removed because of this issue. “It is the prerogative of the prime minister to appoint the army chief,” he added.
Asif said the process for the appointment of the army chief needed to be “institutionalised” just like the judiciary. “There is no speculation about [a chief justice]. I know who will become the chief justice in 2028.”
He opined that the appointment of the COAS needed to be made on “merit” to discourage “political debate” on such an “important issue”.