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Pakistan PM set to appoint new army chief amid high political tensions

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is poised to appoint a new army chief amid lingering political turmoil, officials have said, after the military sent a list of senior army generals as candidates for the key position.

Wednesday’s move ended days of speculation about a deadlock between Sharif’s coalition government and the military over the replacement of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is retiring early next week. His term had been extended by former premier Imran Khan amid tension with neighbouring 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.

Speaking at one of his farewell addresses at the military’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, which lies next to the capital Islamabad, Bajwa called Khan’s claims “fake and false”. He also said the military would play no role in national politics in future.

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‘External conspiracy’

“You think that the armed forces would sit idly by if there were an external conspiracy in the country,” Bajwa said, referring to Khan’s claim that the parliamentary confidence vote that ousted him in April was part of a US-backed plot. 

“A state of hysteria was created in the country on the pretext of a fake and false narrative,” the army chief added. 

In a tweet, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif confirmed on 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. 

Sharif’s office took to Twitter on Wednesday, saying “The PM Office has received the summary from the Ministry of Defence with a panel of names for the appointment of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Army Staff.”

Khan, who started his protest march from the eastern city of Lahore on October 28, wants Sharif to immediately resign. 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 toward Islamabad in convoys without him. Khan is expected to again lead the march on Islamabad on November 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.

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