ISI chief’s issue exposes civilian supremacy ‘supporters’

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 11:47 AM, 16 Oct, 2021
ISI chief appointment
File photo.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, during his second term as prime minister, removed Gen Pervez Musharraf as army chief on October 12, 1999, when the latter was returning home from his official visit to Sri Lanka. He was in the air when the industrialist-turned-politician fired him. 

The army rejected the action and refused to accept Gen Ziauddin Butt as the new army chief.  

The military reaction amply exposed the authority of the prime minister. 

Now two decades later the power of the country’s chief executive is being tested again by the military. This time on the issue of appointment of the new director-general of the ISI. 

Although relations between the PM and COAS are said to be harmonious like never before in country’s history, the chronology of events on the subject doesn’t fully endorse the assertion. 

It was on October 6 when the ISPR issued a news release concerning important postings/transfers in the army. 

According to the press release ISI DG Gen Faiz Hameed was designated as corps commander, Peshawar, with Karachi corps commander Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as his replacement. 

Since the appointment of the ISI chief falls within the powers of the prime minister – and he had not even been consulted on the subject before the issuance of the news release, it became a subject of new controversy in the media. In fact it was the main subject of discussions at various fora. 

Ruling PTI chief whip’s claim in a TV interview that the prime minister wants to retain Gen Faiz Hameed in his present position for six months because of the uncertain situation in neighbouring Afghanistan lent credence to reports that chief executive of the country and the boss of the defenders of Pakistan were not on the same page. 

That Gen Faiz should be allowed to stay on as spymaster because his successor would need time to understand the situation and grapple with it is a very valid argument. But at the same time it is also a fact that the COAS knows better who should be given what assignment to keep the defence invincible. 

But the real issue is who has the authority to appoint the ISI chief and what procedure is to be followed to select that person.       

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted on Wednesday that consultation between Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for the appointment of the new ISI director general had been completed. 

“Now, the process for the appointment [of the new DG ISI] is under way,” he said. 

"The civil and military leadership have once again proved that all institutions stand united for the sake of country's sovereignty, stability, and progress," the minister said in an attempt to play down the speculations being made about any unpleasant result of the storm.   

Whatever the minister says means that so far the procedure had not been followed. Now there are reports that the prime minister will interview those mentioned in the panel. A latest indication is that he will only meet those recommended by the COAS for the slot.   

The delay in the issuance of the notification for about a week now establishes that the prime minister’s point of view has ‘not’ been totally ignored by the military establishment, which is a positive development from the viewpoint of civilian supremacy. 

It also shows that the army chief’s ‘decision’ has not been blindly accepted by the prime minister. 

Of the prime minister and COAS who has gained or lost what will be clear when the notification is ultimately issued at the end of the ongoing process.  

Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed has been quoted as saying that the matter will be resolved in a week and notification in this regard may be issued any time – on Saturday or Monday.  

On the other hand, the attitude of political parties is unprincipled, based only on expediency and opposition to the prime minister. They want a powerful prime minister but they have a different opinion for Imran Khan as the chief executive.   

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz said while talking to reporters on Wednesday that there were no two opinions about the constitutional rights given to a prime minister. 

“However, [PM] Imran Khan is neither a constitutional nor an elected prime minister,” she insisted, adding that the premier relied on "magic" to run the country of 220 million people. 

“When important appointments are made on the basis of witchcraft and ghosts, then obviously the institutions of the country will be turned into a spectacle.” 

Known for using taunting language on all occasions, she continues to question the credential of the prime minister, forgetting that her dear uncle Shehbaz Sharif was the opposition leader in the same assembly, whose legitimacy is not being recognized by the de facto head of the PML-N. 

She should let the nation know why 84 PML-N legislators continue to be part of the ‘illegitimate’ assembly. 

PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who also heads a religious party, on the appointment of ISI chief is equally astonishing.  

He has been quoted as saying that it’s for the COAS to make the appointment.  

These are the leaders who want civilian supremacy and are ‘willing’ to offer any sacrifice for the purpose.  

Principles are being sacrificed for political expediency, forgetting the implications of their present stance for the chief executives of the country in the future.