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Law On Extension Of COAS Benefits Both Civil And Military Leadership

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The amendments to Army Act, though advantageous for General Qamar Javed Bajwa at this juncture, are also good for democracy in the long run. A government must have the power to regulate the affairs of state and granting chief of a force an extension when the circumstances require as such is one such power. It’s a win-win situation for all the important stakeholders, argues Awais Babar.

Though the support in favour of the amendments in the Army Act by the PML-N and PPP are being termed as U-turns or polishing the apple to get rid of their cases as suggested by Faisal Vawda in a bizarre manner when he placed an army boot on the table, conversely, I tend to propound that this issue is being made Herculean for no good reason.

What was the amendment about? The amendment was to put on paper the power of executive to grant extension to the chiefs of different forces. In fact, these are not amendments as such; rather an exercise of power granting an extension is only being further clarified and made in writing on the orders of the Supreme Court.

The executive already had this power in essence, and one may ask as to how come this issue became so burning for government and opposition.

The government is besieged with the obligations it has to fulfill not only towards public but also the establishment. With respect to people, government owes them a magnificent performance, which to this day has been inconsequential to say the least. When it comes to the understanding government had with the establishment, the former has done everything to prove its appeasement and loyalty. However, the unexpected developments in the Army Chief’s extension case before the Supreme Court took a wrong turn.

For the extension of the army chief, government had started the ball rolling in the legislative sphere by making swift amendments in the Army Act 1952. Government had also filed a review petition before the Supreme Court few weeks ago in the hope of reversing its judgement on the Army Chief extension given on November 28, 2019.

However, given the enlightening circumstances in the parliament with respect to the Chief’s extension, and now that the Bill has unanimously been passed, it is likely to withdraw the same from the apex court.

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Whereas previously the army chiefs would give extensions to themselves in the name of ‘national security’, the first time an extension was given to any COAS was when around a decade ago, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was in power. The then PM Yousaf Raza Gillani informally gave the extension to the then chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani on TV. Quite the same was supposed to happen in 2019 when unexpectedly the Supreme Court looked into the extension matter and required the government to legislate upon the extension in the army.

As per the amendments, the government will have the authority to reappoint the incumbent army chief including chiefs of other forces for another term of 3 years keeping in view the national security and exigencies, on such terms and conditions that the government thinks fit. In addition, such a reappointment can be made from time to time. Meaning thereby, the maximum tenure of 3 years could even further be extended and extensions could be granted more than one time.

Furthermore, any issue pertaining to the appointment, re-appointment or extension of the Army Chief or the exercise in discretion by the appointing authority in this regard, shall not be called into question before any court on any grounds whatsoever.

Even if PTI manages to get this specific amendment through the parliament, it cannot stop the Supreme Court from looking into this matter. The ‘doctrine of inherent jurisdiction’ empowers a superior court to hear any matter that comes before it, unless such issue has been reserved for another court to be proceeded in. Whether or not the Supreme Court chooses to ever use this inherent jurisdiction is a different matter.

Government is busy in petty little battles, Army Chief’s extension, Rana SanaUllah’s case, Nawaz Sharif bail, Shahbaz Sharif bail,  a Chief Justice of High court ‘insane’, will Maryam go abroad or not, the swift changes in cabinet in the name of ‘the captain can change the batting order’ – all this seems to be a play for the government. The speeches its ministers have made, the long epilogue oriented press conferences that Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan holds every now and then, the defences they make for CM Punjab and the confidence that they display despite no score on the board makes a man wonder and doubt one’s own sanity.

Government has been busy doing everything except one thing that it is supposed to do – govern. Most of all, government showed its inability by not securing the chief’s extension when the time was right and all this clandestine could have been avoided.

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Even the dreamers of civilian supremacy would agree that if Pakistan is to be a democratic state one day, if at all, such a Pakistan must have a strong executive. These amendments though advantageous for General Qamar Javed Bajwa at this juncture, are also good for democracy in the long run. A government must have the power to regulate the affairs of state and granting Chief of a force an extension when the circumstances require as such is one such power. It’s a win-win situation for all the important stakeholders, to say the least.

I also believe that PML-N handled this situation extremely badly on their part. They could have explained it to their voters better that opposing this Bill would serve no purpose in their mission of civilian supremacy.

Opposing this Bill would have meant that PML-N is of the stance that the government will not have the power to grant an extension to the Chief of Army Staff. This is no characteristic of a strong democracy, is it? Having done no homework with no sensible arguments presented, PML-N got mocked around for its ideological slogan of ‘Respect the Vote’ by friends and foes.

For no useful reason, PTI has made this issue controversial especially after the boot incident – their hidden resentment seems to have popped out. It appears though that PTI wanted some drama. It wanted some blood-and-thunder between establishment and opposition parties. Since the opposition parties unequivocally supported the Act for whatever reason they may have, seemingly this development brought great dismay to PTI quarters as their opportunity to stand out and get the establishment’s blessing yet another time got away or got shared. PTI’s possessiveness towards the establishment is muddling its ability to see things clearly.


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