PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Wednesday asked if the country could be held back for the appointment of the army chief, suggesting that instead of thinking about what will happen in November, the focus should be on bringing stability back to Pakistan.

In an interview with journalist Imran Riaz Khan on Express News, Imran said that while the army played an important part in the country’s national security, economic stability was equally important.

“We have to choose […] do we want stability or a new army chief?” he said in response to a question.

He then went on to give the example of the Soviet Union, that according to him, broke apart due to economic instability.

“Right now, the more important issue than the army chief’s appointment is stability and only one thing can bring that — elections,” Imran said, highlighting that the aim should be to prevent Pakistan from falling into a place where “things go out of hand”.

He highlighted that the markets were tumbling, industries were closing down and the economy was in a freefall. “Now is the time to decide. But this fear in Zardari and Shehbaz [of losing the elections] is sabotaging the entire country,” the PTI chairman went on to say.

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was given an extension by the previous PTI government in 2019, will leave his position on November 29 when his second three-year tenure comes to an end.

The next army chief’s appointment is at times mentioned as one of the major subplots in the ongoing political crisis engulfing the country.

In an interview with BBC Urdu in May, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said: “Imran Khan wanted to do things his own way on the matter of the new army chief’s appointment. He wanted to ensure the protection of his political interests and the continuity of his rule.”

The remarks were in response to when the interviewer brought up the impression that former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted over the new army chief’s appointment.

That same month, Imran said he never wanted to bring his own army chief and that he never meddled in Pakistan Army’s affairs.

But as if the appointment is seemingly at the heart of the matter, President Arif Alvi had late last month said in his opinion there was “no harm” in appointing the next army chief before the expiry of the incumbent’s term.

“In my opinion, there is no harm in making the army chief’s appointment ahead of time,” he told reporters.

In the interview, Imran fired broadsides at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and criticised Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja.

He said that it was the “neutrals” — a euphemism Khan uses to describe the military establishment — who suggested the latter’s name as the head of the ECP.

He said that according to the 18th Amendment, heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), ECP and caretaker governments were supposed to be decided amicably by all the political parties.

“At the time of CEC’s appointment, there had been a deadlock [among the parties]. So, the neutrals approached us and said that the country needed to move forward.

“They suggested Sikandar Sultan’s name. I didn’t even know him [back then]. But people told us that he was PML-N’s man,” Imran recalled, saying that when he told the neutral about this, they guaranteed that the CEC would stay neutral.

“But we made a mistake of appointing him because in all these years, from day one, he has been passing decisions against us,” the PTI leader regretted.

And the worst thing the CEC did was create hurdles in the approval of the electronic voting machines (EVM), he continued.

“He did his best to oppose them and so did the other two parties (PML-N and PPP) because they are experts at rigging,” Imran said, adding that PTI would file a reference against the CEC in the Supreme Judicial Council.

He added that despite having all the evidence right in front of his eyes, Raja refused to intervene. “How can he let votes be bought? He has no shame.”

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