Imran Khan under fire from Pakistan Army, government over anti-military speeches – Times of India

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army reacted strongly on Monday to former prime minister Imran Khan’s remarks that the incumbent coalition government was opposing fresh polls as the ruling “Sharif and Zardari” families wanted to appoint an army chief of their choice to protect their alleged corruption.
Taking exception to Khan’s comments about the appointment of the new army chief, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media arm, said it was aghast at the defamatory and uncalled for statement about the institution’s senior leadership. “Regrettably, an attempt has been made to discredit and undermine the senior leadership of the Pakistan army at a time when the institution is laying (down) lives for the security and safety of the people of Pakistan every day,” ISPR said.
The ISPR said it was “most unfortunate and disappointing” when senior politicians try to stir up controversies regarding the appointment of the chief of army staff (COAS), the procedure for which is well defined in the constitution.
The army’s senior leadership, according to ISPR, had a decades-long, impeccable and meritorious service to prove their patriotic and professional credentials beyond doubt.
Addressing a public rally in Faisalabad, central Punjab, on Sunday night, Imran Khan had said that former PM Nawaz Sharif and erstwhile president Asif Ali Zardari, through joint efforts, wanted to appoint their favourite as the next army chief because they are afraid that if a patriotic army chief comes in, he will ask them about their looted wealth. To support his argument, Khan had even aired past video clips related to alleged corruption of the two ruling families. “Whoever is on the top of the merit list should be appointed to head the institution,” Khan remarked.
ISPR, however, responded that politicising the senior leadership of the Pakistan army and scandalising the process of selection of the COAS is neither in the interest of the state of Pakistan nor of the institution. “Pakistan army reiterates its commitment to uphold the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” the statement added.
In a related development, Islamabad high court chief justice Athar Minallah asked whether Imran Khan wanted to hurt the morale of the armed forces by delivering anti-military speeches.
“Did you hear Imran Khan’s speech from yesterday? Do political leaders deliver such speeches? Will everything be put at stake just for the sake of a ‘Game of Thrones’,” Justice Minallah asked Khan’s counsel, who had filed a petition against the electronic media regulator over a ban on Imran Khan’s live speeches. “How can you say in public whether an army chief is a patriot or not,” the CJ asked, and ordered the media body to regulate Imran’s speeches before wrapping up the case.
Following the military’s response, defence minister Khawaja Asif lashed out at Imran for questioning the process of the appointment of the army chief, saying the PTI chief’s statement was tantamount to disrespect for the armed forces. “Their only work as per the constitution is to give security to borders and the country. It is not their oath or commitment to shelter any political leader, and if they do so, it will be a deviation from their oath,” he added. The minister said some legal actions were in the offing against Imran, adding a few of them had been initiated.
In response to a question, Asif said it was the PM’s prerogative to appoint the army chief and that he would consult the government. “But, more importantly, advice from the army chief and the Pakistan army will be given top priority,” he said.
Foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said Imran had proven time and again to be “an unguided missile for the country”.
In a statement, he said that targeting senior officials and handing out “certificates of patriotism and traitors” to members of different institutions were the “hallmarks of this anarchist”.
The appointment of a new army chief is always considered the toughest decision for a Pakistan PM. The current army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, retires this November.
Last month, background discussions with PML-N stalwarts suggested the PM could initiate a dialogue on the appointment by the end of August, and possibly take a decision by mid-September.
As per rules, the president appoints the services chiefs on the recommendation of the PM. The tradition is that General Headquarters (GHQ) sends a list of the four to five senior-most lieutenant-generals, along with their personnel files, to the defence ministry, which then forwards them to the PM to pick the officer he finds best suited for the job.
Theoretically, the defence ministry has to screen the names before presenting them to the PM, but that does not usually happen and the ministry acts merely as a post office between the PM and GHQ.
Following deliberations on the appointment to Pakistan’s most powerful position either at the PM’s office or in the cabinet, the matter is then discussed at an informal consultation with the outgoing army chief. It is, however, the PM’s prerogative to take the final call.
Of the 10 army chiefs the country has had since 1972, five were appointed by former three-time PM Nawaz Sharif during separate tenures. None of the appointments had worked out well for him.