ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is poised to appoint a new army chief amid lingering political turmoil, officials said Wednesday, after the military sent a list of senior army generals as candidates for the key position.
The latest move ended days of speculation about a deadlock between Sharif’s coalition government and the military over the replacement of Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is retiring early next week. His term had been extended by former premier Imran Khan amid tension with neighboring India.
Sharif, who came into power in April by ousting Khan through a no-confidence vote in the parliament, is consulting his allies. Bajwa had been blamed by Khan for conspiring to oust him under a US plot — a charge Washington and the military have denied.
In a tweet, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif confirmed Wednesday that the government had received a summary about the candidates. The military also took to Twitter, saying it sent the names of six senior generals for consideration.
Khan, who started his protest march from the eastern city of Lahore on Oct. 28, wants Sharif to resign immediately. The former cricket hero, survived an assassination attempt this month. A gunman opened fire on his container truck, wounding him in the leg, killing a rallygoer and wounding 13 others.
Since then, Khan’s protest march has moved towards Islamabad in convoys without him. Khan is expected to again lead the march on Islamabad on Nov. 26, according to his Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
The ongoing deadlock between the government of Sharif and Khan’s party has deepened the political turmoil at a time when Pakistan is struggling to deal with the aftermath of last summer’s devastating floods ahead of cold winter weather. Thousands are still living in makeshift homes following the record-shattering floods that killed 1,739 people and affected 33 million.
Khan has also claimed that his removal from power was unlawful and a conspiracy by Bajwa and his political opponents and orchestrated by the United States, a charge denied by both Washington and Sharif.
So far, neither the military nor the government has disclosed the names of the generals who were on the panel. However, the six senior-most generals are Lt. Gen. Asim Munir, Lt. Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Lt. Gen. Azhar Abbas, Lt. Gen. Nauman Mehmood, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid and Lt. Gen. Mohammad Amir.
Sharif’s office took to Twitter on Wednesday, saying “The PM Office has received the summary from the Ministry of Defense with a panel of names for the appointment of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Army Staff.”
Bajwa is retiring at a time when Khan is asking Sharif to announce snap elections, a demand that the coalition government has rejected, saying the next parliamentary vote will take place in 2023 as scheduled. Bajwa became army chief in 2016 and Khan extended his service for three years.
It is widely believed that Gen. Asim Munir, a former spymaster, could be appointed as Bajwa’s successor if the senior most general is elevated. Sharif has the authority to pick any general from the panel of generals recommended to him by the military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its 75-year history.