Mum's the word as 'N' bigwigs ponder new army chief.

KARACHI -- Farewell visits in one camp, ultimate secrecy in the other - the question of who will be the next army chief is on everyone's lips, but answers are scarce.

Gen Bajwa's farewell visits and garrison tours may have put speculations about yet another extension to rest. But as always, the impending farewell marks a new beginning, and makes way for even more machinations and calculations.

Deliberations in London over the past few days between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif are key to the appointment of the next chief, but senior N-leaguers back home either don't know what's being discussed, or won't say.

The prime minister was scheduled to return to Pakistan after lengthy discussions with his elder brother on Friday, but made a last-minute change in his travel schedule and is now expected back in Pakistan sometime next week.

Read: Consensus in London - 'Our way or the highway'

Although the official reason given for the change in the prime minister's travel plans was that he had developed a fever and chose not to travel because he was unwell, the change in schedule was being interpreted by many as having to do with further discussions on the new chief.

'This [the appointment of the next chief] is one issue that has not been discussed with anyone,' one cabinet member told Dawn, rattling off a list of names of senior party members who, like them, are also in the dark.

The paranoia and anxiety are unmistakable. 'No one is talking about it, because even the walls have ears. Things leak and get blown out of proportion. The entire cabinet is out of the loop about what's being discussed in London. It's a sensible way to go about it, as otherwise things can backfire and be misconstrued.'

A day earlier, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif rejected news reports that a decision on the new chief has been taken in London, and said that while the discussions did take place, no final decision has been made.

Talking to Dawn on Saturday, the defence minister said, 'I have experience of handling this process in 2013 and 2016. In both cases, the process started in earnest after Nov 18. Similarly, the nation will ultimately come to know the final decision of the government around Nov 25.'

Party members are tight-lipped for many reasons. Some are genuinely in the dark about what their leaders are discussing in London, while the handful who have any knowledge about these secret conversations say it would be imprudent to share details.


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