Islamabad: Just in order to give a three-year extension to his favourite Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and to avoid the sword of the Supreme Court, Prime Minister Imran Khan hurriedly called an urgent meeting of his Cabinet on Wednesday and got the approval of proposed amendments to the Constitution and the Army Act.
If the Parliament passes the proposed amendments, the prime minister would have a power to extend the tenure of all three defence chiefs for up to three years and at his advice, the president will issue a formal notification.
The cabinet meeting approved the proposed three-year extension in the tenure of the army chief, indicating that Gen Bajwa would continue to serve as the COAS till 2023.
The apex court last month in a detailed verdict issued direction to the government to remove all ambiguities and frame a law to clear the pave of giving extension to Army chief if it insists. The Cabinet also decided to introduce an amendment bill in the parliament on Friday after building a consensus with the opposition on the matter. In this regard, It will share the draft with the opposition on Thursday.
According to an amendment, the maximum age limit for an army chief will be 64 years and this will be applied in case of extension in his term, but the regular age limit of COAS will be 60 years.
Now it would be the prime minister’s prerogative whether to give an extension to the army chief in future. The Army Act’s amendments will also be applicable to the chairman of joint chiefs and the other two services chiefs.
Reportedly, the draft bill recommends raising the retirement age of the services chiefs to 64, while the president may extend their term by three years on the advice of the prime minister.
A government committee comprising Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Amir Dogar, Ali Muhammad Khan and Azam Swati has also been formed to hold talks with the opposition parties regarding the amendment bill.
A day earlier, President Dr Arif Alvi had convened a session of both the upper and lower house of parliament on a 24-hour notice. The move was unexpected since the Upper House of the legislature had not met for 124 days, apart from a requisitioned session.
On December 27, 2019, the apex court had approved the government’s review petition in the case and allotted a number for the initial hearing. However, it would be heard as per the directives of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed.
The review petition filed on December 26, 2019, had sought formation of a larger bench and to nullify the judgement delivered in the case over “legal and constitutional flaws”. The petitioners, including the army chief and the prime minister, had requested the court for a larger bench and sought in-camera hearing of the case as well.
The government’s legal team had reviewed all aspects of the court’s decision thoroughly and concluded that there were several “legal gaps in the verdict”.
“There are flaws in the verdict, and legal and constitutional faults surfaced in the decision. With due respect to the judiciary, the government wants rectification of the faults and has thus decided to file the review petition. The review petition is being filed ultimately in the higher public interest,” Firdous Ashiq Awan, PM’s Special Advisor to the Information said.
Despite the review petition, the option to legislate on the matter through the parliament would remain intact.
In an unprecedented move, the apex court, in late November, had suspended the notification of a three-year extension in the tenure of COAS Bajwa on the account of the summary being “not correct”.
The three-member SC bench, headed by the then chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa, had directed the parliament to legislate on the extension/reappointment of an army chief within six months, after noting that there were no clear laws or rules on the matter.
The court, after grilling the attorney general for three days over the matter, had decided that General Bajwa would remain COAS during the six-month period in which the parliament would draft laws regarding the extension and appointment of an army chief.
“We would like to emphasise that this crucial matter of the tenure of COAS and its extension, which has a somewhat chequered history, is before the Parliament, to fix for all times to come,” wrote Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, a member of the three-judge bench which heard the case, in the court’s 43-page judgment.
“It is now for the people of Pakistan and their chosen representatives in the parliament to come up with a law that will provide certainty and predictability to the post of COAS, remembering that in strengthening institutions, nations prosper,” the court had noted.