In the dramatic case involving the extension in tenure granted to Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Supreme Court of Pakistan has ruled that Gen Bajwa will remain COAS for another six months with immediate effect, “where after new legislation shall determine his tenure and other terms and conditions of service.” The order, read out by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, ordered the parliament to introduce legislation for appointment of army chief under Article 243. The order stated regarding the Article 243: “Article 243 of the Constitution clearly mandates that the Federal Government shall have control and command of the Armed Forces and the supreme command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President.” The CJP remarked that the court is observing judicial restraint and leaving the matter to the parliament. We have reviewed several laws including Army Act 1952 and Rule 1954, the chief judge said. The court had earlier reserved its verdict in this high-profile case and directed the federal government to furnish a fresh summary of the army chief’s extension of services.
Furthermore, the apex court also sought an undertaking from the government that it would legislate on the matter within six months. In its written verdict, the court mentioned some pertinent points, with the fifth point describing the need for legislation. The Supreme Court had taken up the case and noted multiple flaws in the government’s original notification through which the sitting army chief was granted a fresh term of three years. Chaos arose in both political and legal circles after it was brought to light that the notification had been originally signed by the prime minister and not the president – as per rules – and that the subsequent cabinet approval for the decision did not appear to be solid. Following this, a new emergency meeting of the cabinet was called on Tuesday by the prime minister. The sheer incompetence of the government and the mistakes it made, like racing through the original notification and appearing unclear about the provisions of the Army Act and Army Rules, did not help win it much credibility. This is probably why, despite all the blundering by the current government and its obvious attempts to push things through without thought or consultation, this issue becomes about more than one instance. In an environment in which we as citizens have learned to accept without question all decisions, particularly when it comes to powerful institutions, this case acquires historic significance.
The court concentrated only on one item related to the Army affairs where opaqueness has been allowed to prevail, though it also mentioned that there was no check on the activities that are going on in cantonment or under which law an action is being taken. It came as a revelation to many that Article 243 does not lay down any limit on the Army chief’s tenure and that files do not reveal who gave Gen Kayani an extension. The PTI has to realize that the commitment cannot be fulfilled through Presidential ordinances and will have to at the very least pass an act of parliament that requires a simple majority, which might be easier in the lower house, where it holds a razor thin majority, but not in the upper house where it is in a minority. Parliament has to prepare a charter that precisely defines the agencies’ role, their scope and well as their limitations. So far, there are no signs that the opposition will oppose the matter. However, the prime minister’s tweet on Thursday evening, attacking the opposition once again, is certainly not good politics at a time when their cooperation will be required.