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Will PTI Govt Be Able To Pass COAS-Extension Legislation?

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Umer Farooq writes that the PTI government will have a tough time getting the legislation for COAS extension passed in Parliament, especially in Senate where PPP and PMLN hold the majority of the membership.

There seems to be emerging signs that PTI government is anticipating problems and obstacles in the way of COAS-extension related legislation and therefore it could pose a legal challenge to the Supreme Court verdict in which the court directed the parliament to legislate on the issue.

Apparently the government and its allies are giving the impression that army chief is a “non-controversial” office and therefore no party would stay away or oppose the required simple legislation or constitutional amendment.

However, the signs of trouble started to emerge after two major political parties including PPP and PMLN gave out hints that they would not become part of the legislation process related to the extension of Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

General Bajwa has been given six months conditional extension by the Supreme Court provided the government and parliament carry out required amendments in the law to clear the ambiguities in the law related to giving the army chief three years extension in service.

In November, the government of PTI announced that it would give three years extension to General Bajwa on account of the unusual security situation prevailing in the region.

However, in its order, during the hearing of the petition, pointed out that Army Act doesn’t specify any provision under which services of the army chief could be extended for three years. The court directed the government to introduce amendments in the law to insert such a provision. 

Now Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said that the government intends to challenge the SC verdict as it is flawed and doesn’t meet the requirements of law and constitution.

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According to him, the SC cannot and should not tell the legislature on what it can and cannot legislate on. This means that the SC is then dictating the parliament and this goes against Article 243 of the constitution. He further said that the government is still waiting upon the court to give its detailed verdict on the matter of the Army Chief’s extension.

This seems tantamount to creating the space for the government to reject the whole requirement of new legislation as ordered by the SC, in case the government fails to muster enough parliamentary support for the new legislation.

Government is expected to have tough time especially in Senate where PPP and PMLN hold the majority of the membership of the upper house of the parliament. There is every likelihood that in case either PMLN or PPP refuse to join hands with the government the latter might fail in getting passed the new legislation from the senate.

It will be a big embarrassment for the government as well as initiation of a new political crisis if the government fails to get General Bajwa’s extension beyond six months.

Leave aside the external relations, PTI government is not in position to withstand any pressure from the opposition or to run the government without the support of a powerful and supportive general in the GHQ.

The situation will become clear upon the retirement of Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khoso this month as it will become clear whether the new chief justice will as seriously pursue this case as his predecessor had done.

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