The PM in his labyrinth
Nov. 28, 2019
Pakistan must ensure civilian command and control of its armed forces
The Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision to grant six months’ conditional extension to Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa has averted an immediate crisis in the country, but the whole affair is still an embarrassment for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. The government’s ineptitude and incompetence, if not complete disregard for procedural formalities and the Constitution, were on display from the day the notification on extension was issued. It was first issued, on August 19, by the Prime Minister, while Article 243 of the Constitution clearly states that the authority to appoint the Army Chief rests with the President. When the President also issued the notification, extension became reappointment of Gen. Bajwa, whose term was otherwise set to end on Thursday night. When the Supreme Court pointed out these inconsistencies and raised questions about Cabinet approval, the government called an emergency Cabinet meeting and issued another notification, stating that the General’s term was being extended according to Army Regulation 255. The court didn’t accept this notification either, saying Army Regulation 255 doesn’t apply to the Army Chief. Finally, the government argued that the Army Chief can be reappointed by the President in accordance with Article 243. The Supreme Court wanted the government to issue another notification in this regard and give an undertaking that Parliament would pass legislation to avoid legal ambiguities on the issue. It is after the government produced these documents that the three-member bench agreed to the extension.
The Supreme Court stated that it could not find any provision relating to the tenure or reappointment of the Army Chief “under the Constitution or the law”. Therefore, it left the matter to Parliament to specify the terms and conditions of service of the Army chief through legislation in six months. This is another challenge to Mr. Khan. It’s hardly a secret that the current government and the military establishment are close. Mr. Khan must have wanted the extension to come into effect without any controversy so that he can continue to enjoy the confidence of the establishment and vice versa. But now, Gen. Bajwa’s continuing at the top of the military beyond six months from Thursday is dependent on what Parliament decides. In effect, the court has enabled Parliament to clearly define the Army Chief’s tenure, which is a critical issue in a country known for civil-military conflicts. Mr. Khan would do well to tread cautiously on the legislation. He should reach out to the Opposition and try to build a consensus in Parliament as this is a historic opportunity for the civilian class to uphold its authority and ensure, as the Constitution states, that the federal government has control and command over the Armed Forces.
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