Imran’s untimely crackdown on opposition when he needs their support to pass an important legislation to save General Bajwa and the lobbying of seven Lieutenant Generals to occupy Bajwa’s seat will seal the fate of the current COAS -the powerful General Bajwa. But the government in public is on a face saving damage control mission. It files a review plea in the Bajwa’s extension case. …. Writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
The Pakistan government has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against its verdict in the army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s service extension case. In its plea, the government sought a larger bench for hearing the case as also in-camera proceedings.
A three-member bench led by then Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had given six months extension to Genl Bajwa on November 28, after the government assured that the National Assembly will pass a law on extension/reappointment of the army chief within six months. Gen Bajwa, 59, was set to retire on November 28 midnight.
The review petition argued that the SC verdict did not take into account important constitutional and legal points. It pointed out that the apex court itself had been “giving extensions to additional and ad-hoc judges”, thereby making a case for the government to exercise similar discretion as well. The government also maintained that the apex court’s decision was not based on the judgment in the judges extension case.
The Supreme Court on December 16 issued a detailed verdict on the extension in services of the army chief. It noted that “… there is no provision in the law for extending the service of a General for another tenure; nor is there any consistent and continuous institutional practice of granting such extension. “… the summaries for the reappointment, extension and fresh appointment of General Bajwa were “meaningless in absence of the relevant law”.
Allowing the incumbent COAS to continue for six months, the apex court warned that in the absence of legislation on the matter within six months, the institutional practice of retirement of a General on completion of the tenure of three years “shall stand enforced”.
Imran in a fix
Pakistan is heading for a period of uncertainty and possibly, political instability over the Bajwa case. This in effect places Bajwa’s fate at the mercy of the squabbling politicians and lawmakers. This is unprecedented in a country where the army has enjoyed overriding sway.
Along with an impending court verdict on former military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, charged with treason, this is more than the military establishment can digest from a civilian government that it has manipulated and over-lorded and from the judiciary that has a record of validating all past military take-overs of power.
For one, the apex court has not given its detailed judgement and has set no time limit. This is eating into the six-month reprieve that the Imran Khan Government has received.
Secondly, the court has not stipulated how the law would be amended, through a simple majority or a two-third, in both Houses of National Assembly. That vexed task has been left to the government.
Next, the Khan Government, in talks with various political parties in National Assembly through a ministerial committee, has to ensure the passage of the law. This is most difficult in any political/legislative arena, especially when the government has imprisoned on graft charges heads of the two principal parties, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML(N), who is in London for medical treatment and former president Asif Zardari.
There are bound to be attempts at seeking easing of their prosecutions, if not total freedom, for the two and other jailed family members whose rift with the government is bitter and total. They have been cautious in their responses to the court verdict, apparently waiting to extract their pound of flesh from a government in trouble. Bargaining and striking of deals can be attempted and executed in the next few months.
Politically, Imran Khan, widely perceived as having been ‘selected’ through an engineered political and electoral process by Bajwa-led military, is in an unenviable position. But this position is comparable only to the army’s own since it cannot countenance either the politicians or the judges determining the military’s course and supremacy.
Bajwa’s own position is precarious. Opinion has emerged that he should have refused extension once it became controversial. Najam Sethi reveals in his editorial in The Friday Times that Bajwa had personally attended a cabinet meeting.
“Why did Gen Bajwa deem it necessary to personally oversee cabinet proceedings to ensure that the case was suitably presented by the government in the Supreme Court on 28th November?” Sethi asked in his editorial.
Bajwa’s bigger worry is that seven of his juniors, Lt Generals who thought they had chance to succeed him as the Chief, are supposed to have approached the apex court and are lobbying through their influential relatives to somehow scuttle Bajwa getting three full years. This collective bid is unprecedented even if some intrigues in top echelons of the military are known to have taken place before.
The top court, particularly the outgoing Chief Justice, Asif Saeed Khosa, is seen as linking Bajwa’s tenure extension with Khan’s veiled criticism of the judiciary for allowing Nawaz Sharif to leave the country. “Don’t taunt us,” Khosa publicly said.
It is possibly this issue, with the reported move by seven Lt Generals, that is supposed to have queered the pitch before the court against Khan and through that, Bajwa.
Former Pakistani diplomat and US-based scholar Hussain Haqqani has said that the military may now be engaged in some behind-the-scene moves with the Opposition to find an alternative to Khan.