On Friday (January 3), Pakistan’s National Assembly and the Senate’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence approved three Bills to amend that country’s Army, Navy and Air Force Acts.
The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill seeks to increase the tenure of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa by three years. The other two Bills are titled The Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Act and The Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Act.
Background to the legislation
In December last year, a three-judge Bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa asked Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to explain and justify the three-year extension given to the Army Chief.
Imran had announced the extension of Bajwa’s tenure in August, a little over two weeks after India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, citing the “regional security situation”. Bajwa’s tenure was supposed to end in November 2019 in the normal course.
However, a day before his scheduled retirement, Pakistan’s Supreme Court issued an order that nullified the extension, and gave Bajwa a conditional extension of six months. This meant that the government had six months to extend the General’s term through legislation.
The amendment in the law
On Friday, the Pakistani daily ‘Dawn’ reported that the amendments to the three Bills would fix 64 years as the age of retirement of the three Service chiefs and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
The Prime Minister would have the power to extend the tenure any of them at the age of 60 years, with the President having the power to give the final nod.
Section 8C of the amended Act, quoted by ‘Dawn’, says, “The retirement age and service limits prescribed for a general, under the rules and regulations made under this Act, shall not be applicable to the Chief of the Army Staff, during his tenure of appointment, reappointment or extension, subject to a maximum age of sixty-four (64) years. Throughout such tenure, the Chief of the Army Staff shall continue to serve as general in the Pakistan Army.”
Significantly, while Pakistan’s main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has promised its “unconditional support”, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has cautioned the government against acting in haste.
Significance of the extension
The Army is the most powerful institution in Pakistan, and the Army Chief has in the past often been the most powerful individual in the country.
At least six Pakistan Army chiefs have had their tenures extended earlier. However, the difference in the case of Bajwa is that the government’s order was objected to by the top court — the first time that this happened in the country.
In its November order, the SC said that the “summary and approval of army extension is not correct”.
The amendment brought by the government is an attempt to give some structure to how extensions would work in the future, in line with the SC’s demand to justify and explain the extension.
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