ISLAMABAD: Just as the newly-formed military courts are about to begin working, the army has retired the head of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) branch, Brigadier Naubahar.
The head of the JAG branch is traditionally considered the principal law officer of the army’s legal wing and deals with all military-related litigation.
However, as part of efforts to strengthen the army’s legal department, the post of director general lawfare directorate (DGLD) was created in September 2014. The designation is superior to the office of the judge advocate general and is filled by a serving major-general.
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Maj-Gen Mohammad Irshad was given charge as DGLD in December last year, and in the first week of January, the army’s Service Review Board (SRB) discontinued the services of JAG Brig Naubahar, according to sources in the federal government.
Brig Naubahar was retired even though he could continue to serve until 2021 under army rules
This move, coming as it does just as the newly-formed military courts are to begin functioning, has raised eyebrows among official circles. But ex-servicemen affiliated with the JAG branch agree that this is not unprecedented.
Sources told Dawn that under Army Rules and Regulations (ARR), the head of the JAG branch could technically serve until 2021, when he reached the age of superannuation at 60.
Under the ARR, a brigadier can retire after completing 30 years of service, but under a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) issued in 1997, the JAG chief was allowed to continue serving until the age of 60. The SRO in question was introduced by the Nawaz Sharif government in 1997, when retired Lt-Gen Iftikhar Ali Khan was the defence secretary.
His continued service, however, is subject to annual approval from the SRB. Earlier, as per ARR 1986, after completing 30 years service in uniform JAG could be retired after completing 30 years service in uniform.
When asked for comment, a military spokesperson told Dawn that the JAG’s retirement was a ‘routine matter’.
Former officers of the JAG branch told Dawn that despite issuance of the SRO in 1997, not a single head of the JAG branch could benefit from the SRO and remain in office until the age of 60.
A retired JAG officer told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the appointment and retirement of consecutive JAGs were made according to the wishes of the top brass.
During the nine-year tenure of former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, three JAGs – Brig Ali Ahmed, Brig Ayub and Brig Wasif Khan Niaz – were retired.
Brig Wasif Niazi told Dawn that the SRO was issued unnecessarily, as there was no need to engage a brigadier-level officer for such a long time.
“Nobody is indispensable,” he said.
“In my view, the services of the current JAG should not be retained until 2021 because there are several competent officers already in line for the job who should get the opportunity to head the JAG branch,” he said.
Another former JAG told Dawn that since 2001, the JAG branch would deal with a few dozen cases on average. But as the recent amendments in the army act expanded the jurisdiction of the military courts manifold to include over 20 offences under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Protection of Pakistan Act, one can imagine that the army’s legal branch would have its hands full.
Not only will the JAG branch have to deal with internal disciplinary matters, but also terrorism cases referred to it by the federal government, increasing their workload substantially, he said.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2015