ISLAMABAD: The head of the army’s media wing, Major General Babar Iftikhar, said on Thursday Pakistan’s political leadership had to make a decision on whether to hold early elections, adding that the military had no role in the matter.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last month and Shehbaz Sharif was voted in as the new premier by parliament. Khan has since been calling for the announcement of immediate elections, and the debate on when polls would be held has dominated the country’s politics.
The election commission has said it needs until at least October to be prepared to hold elections. Elections are scheduled to be held in October 2023.
“Politicians have to make the decision on early elections, army has no role in this,” Iftikhar said during a TV interview on Dunya News when questioned about what role, if any, the army could play in ensuring early polls. “Pakistan’s senior political leadership, they have the status and the capability that they can sit together and talk about this in a better way.”
“Whenever the army has been called into a political issue or the army has intervened, it has always become controversial,” Iftikhar added. “So, that’s why the leadership of the army has decided that we will go to every limit to keep ourselves away from political matters.”
He said if the army was needed “in the conduct of elections,” it could be called in by the election commission to provide security.
Military-civilian discord has been the source of tension throughout Pakistani history. The army has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 72-year history.
“The impulsive comments by important senior politicians about Peshawar Corps commander very inappropriate. Political leadership should refrain from passing objectionable remarks against the Army, don’t drag them”. Asif Zardari and Maryam Nawaz directly targeted Faiz Hameed
The media wing of Pakistan Army, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), took exception to the “imprudent comments” made by the country’s senior politicians about Peshawar Corps Commander Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, terming them “very inappropriate”.
In a statement, the military’s media affairs wing said the Peshawar Corps was an “illustrious formation” of the army and was spearheading the national war against terrorism for over two decades.
“One of the most competent and professional officers is entrusted with the responsibility to lead this prestigious formation. Imprudent comments made by important senior politicians recently about [the] Peshawar Corps commander are very inappropriate,” the ISPR said.
It added that such statements undermined the honour and the morale of the institution and its leadership.
“It is expected that the senior political leadership of [the] country refrains from passing objectionable remarks against the institution, whose brave officers and men are constantly putting their lives on the line to guard the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan,” the statement concluded.
Army showing tolerance, restraint
Speaking to the media shortly after the press release was issued, ISPR Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar reiterated that “many statements” were made in the last few days by the country’s politicians and termed them “highly inappropriate”.
Maj Gen Iftikhar said that the institution was showing “tolerance and restraint and requesting that the army is not dragged into politics”.
He said the army was fulfilling important responsibilities for ensuring security on the country’s western, eastern, and northern borders, while also taking measures for internal security. “We, as an institution, have nothing to do with the political situation of the country,” he said.
The army’s spokesperson also said that the appointment of the next army chief should not be made “controversial” by turning it a topic of debate. He said the procedure for the appointment of the army chief had been outlined in the Constitution, adding that it would take place in accordance with the law.
Recent comments by politicians
While the ISPR statement did not name any particular politician, it comes after PPP co-chair Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz made comments about Lt Gen Hameed, who served as the Inter-Services Intelligence chief from June 16, 2019 to Oct 19, 2021.
On Wednesday, Zardari had been asked about Lt Gen Hameed at a press conference in Karachi and had replied with: “The helpless Faiz Hameed has been sidelined.” However, he had later issued a clarification that he had “unintentionally” uttered the sentence.
Meanwhile, Maryam told reporters outside the Islamabad High Court earlier today that that the army chief should be a person who had a “flawless reputation”, free from any criticism or doubts.
The PML-N vice president made the remarks while answering a question about Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s comments, wherein he had said that Lt Gen Hameed’s name could be considered for the new army chief.
In her media talk, she said that the army was a respectable institution for the country and its people. “The nation looks at the army for the unity and security of Pakistan. So it is important that the army chief is a person who is worthy and stainless so that people salute the Pakistan Army.”
Addressing a rally last week in Fateh Jang, Maryam had also criticised Lt Gen Hameed while referring to Imran Khan’s recent podcast appearance where he had said the intelligence chief was the “eyes and ears” of the government.
The PML-N leader had said: “We know that he wasn’t your eyes and ears [rather] he was your hands through which you throttled your political opponents.”
Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed
Peshawar Corps is an illustrious formation of Pakistan Army spearheading national war against terrorism for over two decades . One of the most competent and professional officers is entrusted with the responsibility to lead this prestigious formation,” the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement.
“Imprudent comments made by important senior politicians recently about Corps Commander Peshawar are very inappropriate. Such statements undermine the honour and morale of institution and its leadership.”
The military said it expected senior politicians to refrain from passing “objectionable remarks” against the army and its officers.
Hameed has variously been in the limelight in recent years, particularly since he was one of the key figures who brokered the Faizabad agreement in late 2017, when protesters backing a religious party blocked off roads into Islamabad.
He made headlines in 2019 when he replaced the ISI’s then head, Lieutenant General Asim Munir, as DG after the latter had only served eight months on the job. Last year, Hameed made two known trips to Kabul to meet Taliban officials, one of them in October with the country’s foreign minister.
Last year, then Prime Minister Imran Khan for weeks resisted a military move to replace Hameed with a new head of the ISI, General Nadeem Anjum. Hameed was subsequently made Corp Commander of Peshawar.
It is widely believed that Khan resisted the army move to change Hameed because the two had developed a close relationship and Khan wanted him to stay on until the next elections.
On Wednesday, defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif renewed debate on the new army chief’s appointment when he said in an interview that if the army recommended Hameed as a candidate for the chief’s post, the government would consider it.
Pakistan’s current army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is scheduled to retire on 29th November. Military spokesperson Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar has announced that Gen Bajwa will neither be seeking, nor accept, an extension.