Pakistan PM meets brother Nawaz in UK over naming new army chief

Government accuses ex-premier Imran Khan of trying to influence the appointment of the military chief and making it controversial.

parliament has elected Shehbaz Sharif as the country’s new prime minister
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif [File: Anjum Naveed/AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has met his older brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London to discuss the appointment of the next army chief – often considered the most powerful position in the country.

Defence minister Asif Khawaja, who is travelling with the premier, confirmed the meeting of the Sharif brothers on a Pakistani TV channel on Thursday night.

“Everything will become clear in coming few days,” he told Geo TV.

The current army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is due to retire on November 29.

Al Jazeera sought comments from two government ministers over the meeting of the Sharifs in London, but the queries went unanswered.

Khawaja accused opposition leader and former Prime Minister Imran Khan of trying to influence the appointment of the military chief and making it controversial.

Khan’s party on Thursday resumed its “long march” to capital Islamabad to demand early elections after a weeklong pause due to an assassination attempt on him during a rally last week.

Khan has accused Prime Minister Sharif, interior minister Rana Sanaullah and military official Major General Faisal Naseer of hatching a plot to kill him, charges denied by the government and the army.

Meanwhile, General Bajwa is conducting farewell tours to different military garrisons of the country while the name of his successor remains uncertain.

Bajwa “advised troops to keep serving the nation with same zeal and commitment no matter what the circumstances”, according to a press release issued by the army on Thursday.

Bajwa was appointed the army chief by Nawaz Sharif’s government in 2016 and was originally scheduled to retire in 2019. However, Khan as prime minister granted him a three-year extension that year.

In April this year, the military’s media wing said the army chief will not be seeking an extension of his tenure nor will he accept one, if offered. Bajwa himself said last month during an event in Islamabad that he will be retiring in the “next five weeks”.

Pakistan’s army has directly ruled the country for more than half of its 75-year existence as an independent nation. It is considered the primary powerbroker in a country of 220 million people.

Row over appointment

Khan, who many believe was brought to power with the military’s help, lost a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April.

Over the last few months, Khan, 70, has repeatedly questioned how Pakistan’s ruling alliance, which he calls “corrupt”, could pick the next army chief.

Khan has alleged that the former president, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif want to name a chief of their choice in order to evade accountability for corruption charges against them.

However, the cricketer-turned-politician appears to have softened his stance lately.

Talking to journalists this week in Lahore where he was recovering from the gunshot, Khan said he has no issues with the government picking the next army chief. “They can appoint whoever they want,” he said.

Political analyst Arifa Noor believes the appointment of a new army chief in Pakistan has become more contentious over time.

“The position has a lot of power, be it political, financial, and even the kind of intelligence information an army chief receives,” Noor told Al Jazeera. “This jostling for the position among various stakeholders and people who get affected by the decision is becoming more obvious as time goes on.”

Noor said the process of the appointment, which is coinciding with many other crises in the country, must be looked into.

“If we want to make this appointment less political, we need to perhaps remove the prerogative of any individual making this decision. We must try to make the appointment process transparent and beyond the control of an individual.”

Source: Al Jazeera