Pakistan’s government on Friday introduced legislation to extend the tenure of the army chief in line with a Supreme Court order that it must justify its wish to see the top commander stay on in the job for an extra three years.
Federal Minister for Defence Pervez Khattak on Friday presented the amendment bills regularising services chiefs’ appointment and tenure to Parliament after winning near unanimous backing of the opposition parties.
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Khattak introduced the Pakistan Army (Amendment Act), the Pakistan Navy (Amendment Act) and the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment Act) separately, according to local media.
The bills were, under legislative procedures, initially referred to the Defence Committee, which according to Law Minister Farogh Naseem, accorded them unanimous approval.
“All three bills will be presented in the National Assembly for approval tomorrow,” Federal Law minister said.
The amendments sought through the bill seek to make future extensions of army, navy and air force chiefs ‘airtight’ as the bills state categorically that the decision to do so “shall not be called into question before any court on any ground whatsoever”.
While the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had decided to ‘unconditionally support’ the Army Act amendment, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had insisted that ‘democratic legislative process’ be followed as the bill is approved.
But in a surprise ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the extension in November, ordering the government and army to produce legal provisions and arguments on the reasoning behind the move, pitting the judiciary against the government and powerful military.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for about half its 72-year history and sets defence and security policy and recently has had a role in framing economic policies too.The army chief usually serves a three-year term.
On Friday, the first day of a new parliamentary session, the government introduced a lower house bill to provide legal cover for Bajwa’s extension after managing to win the support of opposition parties, government officials said.
“We are willing to support the legislation if the government follows parliamentary procedures,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the main opposition party.
The legalisation is expected to be passed by next week, clearing the way for Bajwa in his post until 2023.
During Bajwa’s tenure, the opposition has accused the military of meddling in elections and politics to support Khan, while limiting civil liberties and muzzling the media.
Defence standing committee has approved army chief extension bill today.