ISLAMABAD: The head of the army’s media wing, Major General Babar Iftikhar, said on Thursday Pakistan’s political leadership had to make a decision on whether to hold early elections, adding that the military had no role in the matter.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last month and Shehbaz Sharif was voted in as the new premier by parliament. Khan has since been calling for the announcement of immediate elections, and the debate on when polls would be held has dominated the country’s politics.
The election commission has said it needs until at least October to be prepared to hold elections. Elections are scheduled to be held in October 2023.
“Politicians have to make the decision on early elections, army has no role in this,” Iftikhar said during a TV interview on Dunya News when questioned about what role, if any, the army could play in ensuring early polls. “Pakistan’s senior political leadership, they have the status and the capability that they can sit together and talk about this in a better way.”
“Whenever the army has been called into a political issue or the army has intervened, it has always become controversial,” Iftikhar added. “So, that’s why the leadership of the army has decided that we will go to every limit to keep ourselves away from political matters.”
He said if the army was needed “in the conduct of elections,” it could be called in by the election commission to provide security.
Military-civilian discord has been the source of tension throughout Pakistani history. The army has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 72-year history.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, the military called out senior politicians for what it called “imprudent” remarks about the institution and a top officer, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the current corps commander in Peshawar and a former chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency.
The statement from the army, the second in just days cautioning politicians against dragging the military in politics, came in the wake of public remarks about Hameed by senior politicians, including former president and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Ali Zardari, and ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party senior leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif.
“Peshawar Corps is an illustrious formation of Pakistan Army spearheading national war against terrorism for over two decades . One of the most competent and professional officers is entrusted with the responsibility to lead this prestigious formation,” the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement.
“Imprudent comments made by important senior politicians recently about Corps Commander Peshawar are very inappropriate. Such statements undermine the honor and morale of institution and its leadership.”
The military said it expected senior politicians to refrain from passing “objectionable remarks” against the army and its officers.
Hameed has variously been in the limelight in recent years, and was widely believed to have had a close relationship with ex-PM Imran Khan.