'Pakistan elections may be held before the next army chief is appointed'
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has said that the possibility of holding general elections prior to the appointment of a new army chief cannot be ruled out.
In an interview with BBC Urdu, he said, "It is possible that we hold elections before the [new] army chief's appointment, before November. There will be a caretaker government at that time. It is also possible that the caretaker government is gone and the new government is [in power] before November."
Asif was responding to the interviewer after she brought up the impression that former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted over the new army chief's appointment.
وزیر دفاع خواجہ آصف کا بی بی سی کو دیا گیا مکمل انٹرویو اب سے کچھ دیر بعد ہمارے فیس بک اور یوٹیوب چینل پر نشر کیا جائے گا#Khawajaasif #government #armychief #elections #BBCUrdu pic.twitter.com/HLGszm3VDh
— BBC News اردو (@BBCUrdu) May 11, 2022
"Imran Khan wanted to do things his own way on the matter of the new army chief's appointment. He wanted to ensure the protection of his political interests and the continuity of his rule.
Incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa will remain in office till November 29 this year, when his second three-year tenure will end.
Gen Bajwa was given an extension by the previous PTI government in 2019.
In response to a question about whether the PML-N-led coalition government could give the incumbent COAS another extension, Asif said Bajwa had already announced that he does not want his tenure to be extended.
The defence minister said he welcomed the announcement because it had "closed the doors of speculation" and noted that the previous army chief, General (retd) Raheel Sharif, too, had not "directly or indirectly demanded an extension".
'PM'S PREROGATIVE TO CHOOSE ARMY CHIEF'
He was then asked whether the entire process for Imran's removal was because of the former premier's "desire to do things his way". Denying that this was the case, Asif said it was the prime minister's prerogative to choose who he wanted from the list of names recommended to him by the army.
He noted that army chiefs had been appointed in 2013 and 2016 and the premier at the time had taken the decisions on merit and respected the army's recommendations.
"[Former premier] Nawaz Sharif did not know general Raheel Sharif. He knew General Qamar Javed Bajwa because he had served as the Rawalpindi core commander. But the institution's recommendations were respected both times. The [new] appointment will be made on merit in the same way."
Asif said he believed the process for appointing an army chief should be "institutionalised" similar to the judiciary. "There is no speculation about [a chief justice]. I know who will become the chief justice in 2028."
"In my personal opinion, instead of discussing the matter of the army chief's appointment, the process should 100 per cent be based on merit. This is a big and very important issue, it should never be the subject of political debate," BBC Urdu quoted him as saying.
CONSIDERATION OF FAIZ HAMEED'S NAME
When asked whether the PML-N-led government, which has previously criticised former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, would consider him for the army chief's post, Asif replied, "If his name is on the seniority list, it will definitely be considered.
"All names on the list will be considered.
"If the defence minister brings the names of five officers to the prime minister, and the army recommends Lt Gen Faiz Hameed's name as well, then I don't think the defence ministry or the prime minister have the space left to say, 'send three or eight names instead of five'."