Analysts say that the all-powerful military establishment would not have taken kindly to this serious faux pas by the civilian government…. Writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
A major politico-legal crisis was averted in Pakistan over tenure extension to Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The Supreme Court granted only a temporary six-month extension after stipulating a law to be enacted within that period.
If the government fails to get this law through within this time, the extension would be ‘illegal’, the court warned while passing severe strictures against the Imran Khan Government.
Headed by Chief justice of Pakistan, Asif Sayeed Khosa, the three judge bench initially blocked the three-year extension of Bajwa’s tenure that the government had sought.
The court passed a short order asking the government to get the law passed. “We leave this matter to parliament to make law regarding this,” Chief Justice Khosa said while delivering the verdict.
Bajwa was scheduled to retire on the midnight of November 28 and had that happened, Pakistan could have been plunged into a major crisis. Analysts say that the all-powerful military establishment would not have taken kindly to this serious faux pas by the civilian government.
In a surprise ruling following a petition on Tuesday (November 26), the Supreme Court suspended the decision to extend, approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan in August, citing a series of irregularities and ordering the government and the army to produce legal provisions and detailed arguments on the reasoning behind the move. The court said in the course of arguments that the approval had come from the President, not the prime minister, after a cabinet clearance.
The court stressed that the matter of the army chief’s reappointment or extension was challenged. It also observed that the government kept changing its stance, sometimes referring to a reappointment and other times mentioning an extension.
Since Gen. Ashfaq Kayani had received a three year extension and Raheel Sharif is the only army chief in Pakistan who retired on time, the court sought the relevant notifications.
The court noted that a new summary notification had been presented to it today according to which Gen Bajwa has been appointed as Chief of Army Staff.
These loopholes of the past and the present apart, analysts say Imran Khan courted trouble by annoying the top judiciary.
Analysts noted that Imran Khan who is at war with so many institutions of the State that the attacks of him come by the scores. A newspaper has aptly called him “prisoner of his own rhetoric.”
Annoyed that the court considered the seriousness of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s sickness and had let him go for medical treatment, fly out, Imran made an ill-considered jibe against the superior judiciary, asking it to “restore public trust by ending the impression about favouring the powerful against the poor”. To that, CJP Khosa retorted that the judiciary had convicted one prime minister and disqualified another, and that a verdict against a former army chief was soon to be delivered.
The unstated part is that the Khan Government, under severe criticism for prevaricating on Nawaz’s illness and need to let him fly out, had used the count order, which it did not challenge, and let him go.
A week later, the same government petitioned the Islamabad High Court seeking deferment of the verdict in the case against self-exiled former ruler, retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, who is being tried for high treason, a trial dragging on since 2014.
Obviously, Imran wants to rescue Musharraf under the army’s press since the latter cannot countenance a general, that too, a former president, to be tried and possibly, convicted and punished by a civilian court. This is simply not on in Pakistan.
Exposed for double-talk and conflicting actions, Khan and his government, where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, are facing flak all-around.
The latest to jump in are the lawyers, whose movement had vanquished Musharraf. They observed a countrywide strike on November 28 to protest what they called are “unconstitutional moves” of the federal government to ensure that the Army Chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure extension and the high treason case against Musharraf.
Gen. Bajwa is due to retire on the midnight of November 28. He would have to go home unless the apex court vacates the petition challenging the government’s action.
For all concerned – the Khan Government, the army and its Chief and the judiciary – it was touch and go.
The government tied itself in knots before the Justice Khosa-led Supreme Court bench, unable to explain whether it was wanting ‘re-appointment’ or ‘extension’ for Bajwa. To be sure the army does not like, more than in Mushrraf’s case, its current Chief being pushed around and placed at the mercy of the judicial pronouncement.
‘Put your house in order,’ the court told Attorney General. “No one even bothered to read what they are issuing,” the CJP observed regretting the way the law ministry dealt with the issue.
Then came further warning: “Please settle the matter by Thursday because you have only one day or the time will be over and the court will decide in accordance with the Constitution and the law.”
Never has civilian government received such tongue lashing from the judiciary on a matter pertaining to the military, that too, the continuance in office of the army chief. While the top court expressed its annoyance, the powerful army that acts more than it speaks, cannot feel amused by what has transpired.