Is there a lull in the storm raging around Islamabad?
With the stand-off between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the state going from tense to outright hostile over the past fortnight, few would have expected Imran Khan to budge an inch – especially not with public opinion seemingly in his favour. Yet, the former prime minister might be reconsidering some of his positions in his fight against the state.
On Tuesday, Khan told a group of journalists that he does not see a problem in Shehbaz Sharif’s government appointing the next Army chief. He even seemed okay with the idea of the appointment being made without any input from his party. “They can appoint whoever they want,” he said – a surprising remark considering that just days ago, he had been railing about “thieves and looters” being given the power to make that decision.
He also avoided sharing his thoughts about the first information report finally filed by the Punjab Police following the failed bid to assassinate him; it doesn’t name any of the three people he had originally nominated. Instead, he said that his lawyers would be providing his stance on the matter.
After the vehemence with which he had attacked the state and government after the incident, this seemed like an unusual retreat.
Meanwhile, things were moving elsewhere too. The prime minister formally wrote to the chief justice to form a judicial commission to probe the attempted assassination of his predecessor. Khan had earlier expressed his openness to Sharif’s offer to involve the Supreme Court, and this may just help cool the increasingly febrile political environment in the country since last Thursday.
As can be expected, this flurry of “breakthroughs” raised eyebrows. Had the needle moved somewhere? Why did the prime minister jet off to London on a “private” trip straight from COP27? Did he need to deliver a message to his elder brother?
There have been murmurs that Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa may be asked to stay. Khan appeared to give credence to these rumours when he told journalists in the aforementioned meeting that Bajwa’s extension was a “billion-dollar question”.
An extension at this point could still be sellable to the public as a necessity so that a new government, with its fresh mandate, may decide Bajwa’s successor. If the extension does materialise, however, it would be an unfortunate step back.
After so much ink has been spilt over the matter, our leaders ought to have realised that military appointments should remain independent of national politics. For either domain to influence the affairs of the other is a recipe for disaster.
The prime minister should put an end to the uncertainty by appointing Bajwa’s successor immediately. Delaying the appointment to the eleventh hour is creating complications that Pakistan can ill afford at this point.
This article first appeared in Dawn.