Legal wrangle over Pakistan army chief’s tenure extension

Special Legal wrangle over Pakistan army chief’s tenure extension
General Qamar Javed Bajwa was handed a three-year extension on August 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 November 2019

Legal wrangle over Pakistan army chief’s tenure extension

Legal wrangle over Pakistan army chief’s tenure extension
  • General Qamar Javed Bajwa was handed a three-year extension on August 19
  • The military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 72-year history, has always denied interfering in politics

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal Cabinet on Tuesday approved a new summary for extension in the tenure of army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

This came after the country’s top court suspended the first extension, pointing out procedural flaws earlier in the day.

“The federal Cabinet has approved an amendment in the army regulation to include ‘extension in tenure’ for a clarification,” said Shafqat Mahmood, federal education minister, while addressing a press conference with Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability Shehzad Akbar and Railways Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad.

He confirmed that the government had taken back the first notification issued on Aug. 19, signed by the prime minister, and the Cabinet approved the new notification after due deliberation.   

The minister also defended Prime Minister Imran Khan’s prerogative to appoint services chief under Article 243 of the constitution. 

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures … the prime minister has taken the decision in the wake of Gen.  Bajwa’s achievements in securing peace in the region,” he said.

Mahmood said the Cabinet had paid tribute to Gen. Bajwa for “playing a tremendous role in national security.”

Meanwhile, Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem has resigned from his position to “represent the government (in a case regarding the army chief’s tenure extension) in the Supreme Court tomorrow,” the railways minister said.

Earlier in the day, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan suspended the government’s first notification of Bajwa’s tenure extension, noting that the prime minister did not have the authority to extend the tenure of the army chief, which was the prerogative of the president.

“Ostensibly, the summary and approval of (the army chief’s tenure) extension is not correct,” the chief justice said during the court proceedings. “The prime minister doesn’t have the authority to extend the army chief’s tenure.”

Notices were subsequently issued to the Defense Ministry, the federal government and the army chief to file their responses as the court resumes on Wednesday. 

The army chief is due to retire on Friday, but was granted a second term by the prime minister who cited the “regional security environment.”

The top court was hearing a petition challenging the government’s decision to extend the army chief’s term. The petitioner, advocate Riaz Hanif, on Tuesday approached the court seeking withdrawal of his petition, but the court rejected it citing public interest.

Meanwhile, legal experts have called the suspension of the army chief’s tenure notification “unprecedented,” which may create legal complications for the government.

“The government will now have to satisfy the court on legal grounds that it has followed due process to grant the extension,” Omer Malik, a barrister, told Arab News.

He said that the government may complete the whole process of extension again in a day or two in view of the “procedural flaws” pointed out by the court, but this would be clear only after Wednesday’s hearing.

“The army chief will have to go if the court does not withdraw the suspension order before the day of his retirement,” Malik said.

Pakistan’s major opposition parties have avoided comment saying the issue was sub judice. “The matter is in the court and we don’t want to comment on tenure extension of a government employee,” Bilawal Bhutto, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, said while talking to the media in Islamabad.

“The government has made a spectacle of the country’s most sensitive appointment,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Ahsan Iqbal said.