Imran Is Frustrated At The Baton Being Shifted From Executive Back To Parliament
Muhammad Ziauddin argues that the biggest winners in this COAS extension episode seem to be Pakistan’s embattled opposition parties. The SC has left this key matter to Parliament. PM Khan, therefore, will have to overcome his hostile relationship with the opposition and seek its cooperation to pass the complex legislation.
If as per a Twitter message by Prime Minister Imran Khan, a clash between institutions has been averted as a result of the Supreme Court’s short order concerning the issue of extension in the tenure of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), and by the same token democracy has been served as observed by federal law minister Faroogh Nasim (former for the time being) during a press conference on Thursday then the petitioner, Rai Riaz deserves unreserved gratitude of the nation as a whole and next in line for the same, if not more is the Supreme Court – the former for filing the petition and the latter for examining it with the seriousness demanded by the issue.
On the other hand, however, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, especially the Attorney General Anwer Mansur Khan and Law Minister Faroogh Nasim, deserve unreserved censure for having brought the country to almost the precipice by not understanding in clear terms on the very first day of the hearing of the case what according to the SC the government needed to do which, in turn, caused the SC to issue the final order (after the government’s third draft too did not satisfy the SC) so close to the fast looming dead-line for Bajwa’s retirement with no successor in sight or in system to take over the command of the Army.
According to the short order Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa will remain the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) for another six months, during which parliament will legislate on the extension/ reappointment of an army chief.
The relevant paragraph of the short order said and we quote: “The order was announced after being assured by the government that parliament will pass relevant legislation within six months.
The learned Attorney-General has categorically assured the Court that this practice being followed is to be codified under the law and undertakes that the Federal Government shall initiate the process to carry out the necessary legislation in this regard and seeks a period of six months for getting the needful done.
Considering that the COAS is responsible for the command, discipline, training, administration, organization and preparedness for war of the Army and is the Chief Executive in General Headquarters, we, while exercising judicial restraint, find it appropriate to leave the matter to the Parliament and the federal government to clearly specify the terms and conditions of service of the COAS through an Act of Parliament and to clarify the scope of Article 243 of the Constitution in this regard. Therefore, the current appointment of General Qamar Javed Bajwa as COAS shall be subject to the said legislation and shall continue for a period of six months from today, whereafter the new legislation shall determine his tenure and other terms and conditions of service.”
Wonder of wonders a government that could not draft a simple summary will now try its hand at drafting a complex piece of legislation with far reaching impact on how succession in the armed forces will work in the future.
The Article 243 will now specify not only the tenure and terms of service of the COAS but presumably also outline the reasons why an extension is being granted, if at all it is being contemplated by the cabinet, to a COAS on the expiry of his Constitutional term.
However, since one of the judges on the SC bench observing the muddle headed responses and irrelevant drafts of notification prepared by the government’s legal team even on a second try had rightly asked for checking the degrees of those tasked with the exercise, one would find it almost impossible to go along with the interpretation of the SC’s short order outlined at the official legal team’s Thursday press conference and that too when the detailed order is still being awaited.
On the face of it, the biggest winners in this episode seem to be Pakistan’s embattled opposition parties. The SC has left this key matter to Parliament. PM Khan, therefore, will have to overcome his hostile relationship with the opposition and seek its cooperation to pass the complex legislation.
The government that could not draft a summary will now try its hand at drafting a complex piece of legislation with far reaching impact on how succession in the armed forces will work in the future.
It looks as if Imran Khan is frustrated and feels very jealous at the shifting of the baton from executive back to the parliament and is now provoking the opposition to add more fuel to the fire, to extend the crisis. Imran Khan’s bravado ensures more trouble for the 6- month deadline.
The GHQ, therefore, will have to talk to opposition parties directly for amending article 243 within the stipulated period. Justifiably, SC has limited itself to being ‘Custodian’ of the constitution and not become the legislature. In a way, SC has also given an opportunity for those in parliament an opportunity to negotiate legislation rather than render the two houses dysfunctional because of the government’s undemocratic approach towards the institution of parliamentary opposition.
However, according to one very bright, young legal mind, the PTI government has the parliamentary strength to amend the relevant Act to provide for term limits and extension for the COAS. In his view, no constitutional amendment or 2/3rd majority is required. If this is so, then the PM need not worry too much about seeking cooperation from the opposition.
And since it is a matter affecting the tenure of the sitting COAS, the chances are the opposition would approach the issue not on principles but purely on the basis of political expediency and reluctantly cooperate with the government at least in the legislation work.
The author is a senior journalist and editor.