The country had been directly ruled for about half of its history by military generals

Pakistan's Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Wednesday said the general elections will be held as per schedule in 2023, while the new army chief would be appointed next month in line with the law and the Constitution.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is poised to pick the new army chief ahead of the retirement of the incumbent Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa by the end of November.

Last month, former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said Gen. Bajwa should be given another extension until the new government is elected, while reiterating calls for early elections.

The appointment of the new army chief would take place in November, according to the law and the Constitution, while the general elections will be conducted on schedule after August 2023, when the current term of the National Assembly was to end, Asif said while addressing a press conference on Wednesday.

"Imran Khan has not been in his right mind and is fearful as November is fast approaching," the minister said.

The minister said Bajwa's replacement was not decided, though names of five senior lieutenant generals had come up for consideration, he said.

Bajwa has held the top post of the Pakistan Army for six years.

He was initially appointed in 2016, but after three years of tenure, the then government of Khan in 2019 extended his service for another three years.

"Any one of those general staff officers or someone not mentioned on the list can be appointed," he said, adding that all three-star generals were eligible for the post of army chief.

Asif also targeted Khan for repeatedly criticising the armed forces for staying away from politics, after the former premier sarcastically addressed the military establishment as "neutrals".

"Imran Khan acts hypocritically and lies about the security forces of Pakistan. But it is our duty to stand with the Army," he claimed.

Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), made calls for the 'Haqeeqi Azadi March' (real freedom march) during a meeting held at his Bani Gala residence here on Monday to press for the dissolution of the National Assembly and announce fresh elections in the country.

Party workers said Khan will announce the long march any time after October 9, the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad, according to Express Tribune newspaper.

The 70-year-old cricketer-turned politician came to power in 2018 with promises to create a 'Naya Pakistan' but miserably failed to address the basic problem of keeping the prices of commodities in control.

He was voted out of power through a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April.

Gen. Bajwa is set to retire in the last week of November after holding the top post for six years.

He was initially appointed in 2016 but after three years tenure, the then government of Imran Khan in 2019 extended his service for another three years.

The appointment of army chief is the sole prerogative of the prime minister and it is perhaps the only time that his verdict is accepted by the powerful army without any ifs and buts.

The upcoming appointment is in the headlines for all wrong reasons. When Khan was in power, the opposition accused him of trying to bring an army chief of his choice who could support his alleged agenda of victimising opposition leaders.

Since he lost power, the equation has changed and now Khan is saying that the coalition government wants to install an army head of its choice to protect looted wealth and steal general elections.

Whatever the political meaning of the rival rhetoric, the fact is that an army chief is seldom a silent spectator of the political games in the country.

The country had been directly ruled for about half of its history by military generals.

The powerful army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 75-plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.