–Federal cabinet approves amendments to Army Act, expected to table draft bill in parliament on Friday
–Amendments authorise president to extend tenure of services chiefs by three years on PM’s advice
–Govt forms committee to hold talks with Opp parties to pass Army Act amendments
ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Wednesday approved amendments to the Army Act in light of the directions given by the Supreme Court (SC) last month in a case pertaining to the extension in tenure of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
An emergency meeting of the cabinet was convened under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Imran Khan to define the service period and process of extension of an army chief.
According to reports, 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 advise of the prime minister.
The government is likely to table the bill in parliament on Friday. It will share the draft with the opposition on Thursday.
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.
Speaking to the media on the day the petition was filed, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan had said that 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,” she had added.
The PM aide had also said that despite the review petition, the option to legislate on the matter through the parliament would remain intact. She had further said that the media would be briefed on the matter extensively by Law Minister Farogh Naseem.
Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed had said that all political parties were on the same page regarding the extension in the tenure of the army chief. Addressing the media in Karachi, he said, “The army chief’s issue is not problematic. Everyone is unanimous on his extension. All parties are on board [with the federal government],” he had added.
The petition, “filed in the interest of public good”, had questioned the legal aspects of the judgement. “The impugned judgement is bad in law and facts. The same is completely without jurisdiction, void ab initio and of no legal effect,” it had stated.
“The order suffers from material irregularities which have converted the process from being one in aid of justice to a process of injustice,” it had stated, and added that the court had “completely overlooked” the laws laid out in the constitution as well as “vital laws”.
“It is respectfully pointed out that glaring omissions and patent mistakes have crept into the Impugned Judgment, violating the law and the Constitution,” it had added.
The petitioner “with the highest respect” had insisted that the judgement by the top court was “patently erroneous” and that the errors were “floating on the face of the record”.
“The enemies of Pakistan were extremely happy when they thought that General Bajwa’s extension or re-appointment had fallen into jeopardy,” the petition had stated, and added, “Pakistan is undergoing a 5th generation war.”
“Very recently, the Pulwama incident bears testimony to the preparedness of our armed forces under the able captaincy of General Bajwa, who on his proactive initiative has also mustered healthy military international relations and support for Pakistan,” it had said.
“The war on terror is not over. The wounds from the APS incident are not forgotten,” the petition had reflected, and added, “The preservation of two leading institutions of the state i.e. the Armed Forces and the Superior Judiciary are necessary concomitants to a healthy democracy, rule of law and safety and security against internal and external aggression.”
“The enemies of the state, now for a number of years have ganged up to destabilise Pakistan,” it had added.
“General Bajwa’s contribution to take vital steps so as to facilitate safety and security in the country will go down in history. The pulse of the people at large is that General Bajwa’s re-appointment has been warmly welcomed. There were seminars and processions in favour of General Bajwa’s re-appointment, from which the pulse of the public opinion can be appreciated,” the petition had stated, and added, “In the present times, it was most appropriate to re-appoint General Bajwa, who himself never sought a re-appointment.”
“The court could not interfere in the legislative domain or equip itself with the function of a parallel legislative authority. It is respectfully pointed out that the direction to the legislature could only be given by the courts so as to avert a situation of unconstitutionality or illegality. No judicial directions to the legislature could be given so as to convert a convention into codified law,” it had added.
The review petition had also revealed that on November 25, the respondent mala fidely preferred a direct Petition No 39 of 2019 before the apex court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, challenging the appointment of General Bajwa as the army chief for a second term of three years, commencing from November 29, 2019 to November 29, 2022.
The petition had stated that the “appointment of the COAS was strictly in accordance with the settled departmental practice followed for seven decades or so”.
“If one would look into the parliamentary debates or otherwise, which would make it rather clear that intentionally and deliberately the matter of the appointment or extension of the COAS was left at the discretion of the prime minister/president,” it had added.
In an unprecedented move, the apex court, last month, 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.