Thursday, June 24, 2021

Pakistan In A Bind Over Extension To Army Chief

[audioplayer file =”http://airworldservice.org/programs/english-audio/commentary-review/11-01-2020_COMMENTARY.mp3″]

The tenure of the Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa which was supposed to come to an end in November 2019 was extended for another three years by Prime Minister Imran Khan through a notification in August 2019. The Khan government tried to justify the extension by saying that an “extraordinary situation” has been created threaten Pakistan’s national and regional security environment in the aftermath of Balakot airstrike, post-the Pulwama blast, India’s Constitutional changes in her state of Jammu and Kashmir and the increasing tensions on the Line of Control (LoC)!

 But in a surprise move, the Pakistan Supreme Court suspended the extension notice on November 26, last, questioning the rationality of the reasons and, most importantly citing procedural irregularities and loopholes in the relevant laws. The apex Court underlined that the Army act is deficient under article 243, clause 3 and does not mention term and tenure for an extension. It ordered the PTI government to form a law/legislation for extension/reappointment of tenure for senior personnel, failing which it said Bajwa will be declared retired after six months.

The Supreme Court order has put the Pakistan government in a panic mode, as it was aware of the fact that to bring any legislation in the Parliament it needed the support of the opposition parties. The permanent solution was to bring constitutional amendment by an act of parliament, but for this, the government needed the support of the opposition in the parliament. It has to be noted that all the extensions of Army Chiefs in the past were traditional without any law!

The PTI government on the advice of the military establishment began to soften its stance on the opposition and started talking about dialogue with the opposition with a motive to bring them on board to pass the services bill in the National assembly and Senate. In What looks like a fixed match, a senior leader of PML-N Rana Sanaullah was granted bail in a case pertaining to drug smuggling, former President Asif Ali Zardari was given bail on medical grounds and there is no word of criticism by the government about Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan from London.  All these paved the way for the passing of the services act bill on 07 January 2020 that is meant to regulate the tenures of not only the army but all the services’ chiefs. The three amendment bills Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020, Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Act 2020, and Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Act 2020 was tabled and passed in both the lower house (National Assembly) and upper house (Senate) without any opposition by Major parties, PML-N and PPP and amid a walkout by few opposition parties including JUI-F and Jamiat-e-Islami and PTM.

But controversy has already cropped up over the drafting of the Services Chiefs bills and questions are being asked if the bills bestows more discretionary powers to the President  to give his consent or not in case of reappointment of services chiefs and extensions in their tenures. Many have questioned why then the Pakistan government has taken the route of the parliament, when it has already filed a judicial review for the Supreme Court’s order regarding Bajwa’s tenure? This underlines that the Khan government’s legal department is confused. What would happen if the petition is accepted or dismissed? 

The Services Chiefs bills are very ambiguous and according to reports, the retirement age of the Heads of the three forces has been increased to sixty four years. In addition, it enables the country’s Prime Minister to extend the Army Chief’s tenure further which would never be challenged. It has also been said that the Prime Minister can terminate any Service Chief whenever he wants. But will this be possible?  We have to remember Nawaz Sharif’s elected government tried to do so, which resulted in the army seizing power. The argument for institution-building is the best strategy for a stronger Pakistan has been indefinitely deferred. Besides, the opposition will expect more concessions from the government, in cases mostly related to corruption.  So, the dream of a corruption free ‘naya’ Pakistan seems over for the moment.

Script: Dr. Zainab Akhter, Strategic Analyst on Pakistan

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