The responsibility for the appointment of a new COAS becoming as controversial as it is rests squarely on the shoulders of PTI chief Imran Khan. His Long March on Islamabad has as its objective the holding of fresh elections, and the appointment of the next COAS by the government elected. At the root of this desire is a tacit acknowledgement of the political importance of the COAS. There are historical reasons for this, originating in the four martial laws that have been imposed, as well as behind-the-scenes interventions that led to the Imran government being labeled a ‘hybrid regime’. However, all of this intervention does not seem to have worked, with the result that the country faces a wide range of problems. There is a lesson here that neither direct military rule nor hybrid regimes work may have been learned. Another item of food for thought has been the Army Act amendment apparently aimed to allow the PM to qualify a particular officer, who is anathema to the PTI. Mr Khan’s objections to the amendments seem rooted in this.
Mr Khan has played a dangerous game, as he has pronounced that the PDM government wants a COAS who will wink at the corruption by PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari. He will thus have raised doubts about whoever is appointed. As it is impossible for anyone to reach the rank of lieutenant-general, and become eligible for consideration as COAS, without careful sifting, he has already placed a gratuitous slur on whichever officer is promoted. This appointment has always had political importance, but never before has it been so publically and vociferously debated, Even though it has been said that Mian Nawaz Sharif was unlucky with all his appointments, in that all played a role in his being sacked, never were the appointments he made subjected to the sort of scrutiny and publicity as at present.
Amid all the discussion, there is every chance of the real consideration for the job being ignored. The COAS should not be chosen because he will not carry out a coup, or be beholden to anyone, but because he will keep the Army prepared for combat in peacetime, and command it suitably if the worst happens in time of war. This is the primary function of the COAS, and not the political aspects of the job, and thus that should remain the main consideration in making the appointment.