Army politicised yet again

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that Imran’s Khan’s “despicable utterances to malign institutions” were touching new levels every day adding, “He is now indulging in direct mud-slinging & poisonous allegations against Armed Forces & its leadership.”

On 4 September, Imran Khan accused the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of opposing snap elections because they wanted to “appoint an army chief of their choice” in November. He said, “They want to bring their own army chief…they are afraid that if a strong and patriotic army chief is appointed then he would ask them about the looted wealth,” adding, “They are sitting [in the government] because they want to bring in an army chief of their choice through joint efforts.” Further, he claimed that Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif were “traitors” and should not be trusted with the fate of the country.

In response to these claims, the ruling coalition accused Imran Khan of levelling “poisonous allegations” against the armed forces and “putting blots” on the appointment of the new army chief. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that Imran’s Khan’s “despicable utterances to malign institutions” were touching new levels every day adding, “He is now indulging in direct mud-slinging & poisonous allegations against Armed Forces & its leadership.” He also stated that Imran Khan’s “nefarious agenda” was aimed at disrupting and undermining Pakistan. Similarly, Asif Ali Zardari said, “Today, everyone knows [who is the] man and the beast., adding, “This man is determined to weaken the country, but we won’t let that happen.” Further, he promised that government would not let the state institutions and generals fall prey to Imran’s “lust.”

On 7 September, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif claimed that “barring one or two exceptions” all prior appointments in the armed forces were made on merit. He added that PM Shehbaz Sharif would take the decision about the appointment of next army chief “within the ambit of the General Headquarters (GHQ)” in November and denied that the ruling coalition had taken a decision extending Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa term.

Army comes down heavy on Imran Khan
On 5 September, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) strongly criticised Imran Khan for his statement saying that it was “aghast at the defamatory and uncalled for” statement about the institution’s senior leadership. It added, “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 lives for the security and safety of the people of Pakistan every day. Senior politicians trying to stir controversies on the appointment of the chief of army staff (COAS), the procedure for which is well defined in the constitution, is most unfortunate and disappointing.”

The statement added, “Politicising the senior leadership of 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 military’s entanglement with politics
An editorial in Dawn claims that Imran Khan’s statements are provocative because highlight the military’s entanglement with politics. Further, it claims that the response from the coalition makes this fact even more clear as both the PPP and the PML-N took the opportunity to label Imran Khan as a ‘traitor’ and reassert themselves as defenders of the army’s good name. Similarly, an opinion in Dawn critical of this development claims that although Imran Khan’s statements seemed directed mainly against the federal government it was off the mark as he not only accused the PDM leadership of trying to bring in an army chief of its own choice but has also questioned the patriotism of the chief who would be appointed. Thus, his efforts are seen as a means to ‘politicise’ and ‘scandalise’ the entire process of selection of the army chief. This would not bode well as it questions process of appointment of army chiefs and also derail the entire democratic political process.

However, what is clear from this development is that the ‘hybrid’ system continues to be used by those in power for their own benefit. Prior to coming to power, the PDM particularly the PML-N took on an anti-establishment narrative while Imran Khan was seen to be on the same page as the military. However, when the tables have turned sides have switched. Further, the army is being dragged into the political discourse at a time when the leadership has publicly denied being involved in politics as well as asked to be kept away from politics. Thus, it would only be a matter of time until the can of worms are spills on Pakistan’s ‘hybrid’ system once again.

Zahid Hussain, “Selecting the army chief,” Dawn, 7 September 2022
“Chief concern,” Dawn, 6 September 2022
Shahbaz Rana, “All past military appointments on merit, save one or two: Asif,” The Express Tribune, 7 September 2022
Naveed Siddiqui, “Army ‘aghast’ at Imran’s ‘defamatory, uncalled for’ statement on senior military leadership: ISPR,” Dawn, 5 September 2022
Khalid Hasnain, “PML-N, PPP want favourite COAS to escape graft cases: Imran,” Dawn, 5 September 2022
Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Army livid over attempt to muddy chief’s selection,” Dawn, 6 September 2022
“’Nefarious agenda’: Coalition govt slams Imran for ‘putting blots’ on army chief’s appointment,” Dawn, 5 September 2022


Pakistan Reader is an academic exercise at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in the Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore, India. The objective of this alert – “Pakistan Reader – Evening Brief” is to update the readers on contemporary developments within Pakistan, on a regular basis. The PR Evening Briefs are a part of the focus on Pakistan at the International Strategic and Security Programme (ISSSP) within the NIAS.


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Abigail Miriam Fernandez

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