ISLAMABAD: The legal fraternity on Tuesday hailed the Supreme Court order of suspending the notification regarding three-year extension given to Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

After the latest development, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) withdrew it earlier call given for a countrywide black day on Nov 28 when a special court will give its ruling in a high treason case against former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Withdrawing the call for black day, PBC vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah appreciated the SC order of suspending the Aug 19 notification regarding extension in service/reappointment of the incumbent army chief.

The PBC vice chairman said the order reflected “true spirit of the Constitution”. The order was also in consonance with the stance of the PBC and the legal fraternity, he added.

The PBC vice chairman assured the judiciary of the lawyers’ full support in its pursuit for upholding the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law in the national interest.

Lawyers say cabinet has every right to rectify any wrong committed

Expressing similar views, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Hamid Khan said he was proud of Pakistan’s judiciary for their independent judgements. He said such an order was the need of the time in view of a wrong tradition being set by granting extension to the army chiefs after their retirement.

The senior lawyer was of the opinion that this trend had badly affected the morale of officers of the armed forces as a whole.

Senior counsel Mohammad Akram Sheikh described the interlocutory order as a landmark development in the annals of judicial precedents of Pakistan, where the SC had only been unfortunately validating military takeovers or upholding of two offices — the army chief and president — in the past, but before 2009.

Hailing the order, Mr Shaikh said it was a great constitutional development that would have a very positive impact on the institutional strength and integrity of the armed forces, the Supreme Court, parliament and parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.

In his view, the move will strengthen the office of the prime minister as the chief executive of the federation vis-à-vis the ongoing civil and military tipping of the scale situation. Provision for extension or reappointment of the army chief was conspicuously absent from the Army Act or subsequent Regulations, he said.

“The order will strengthen the institution of the armed forces because the extension of the Chief of the Army Staff invariably impacts the whole institution and the senior military officers who are men of equal if not greater integrity, competence, brilliance and patriotism,” he said.

A few of them had to resign on account of traditional supersession and those who had developed legitimate expectancy were frustrated, Mr Shaikh said, adding that the same feelings of dismay filtered down to the lowest strata, demoralising the entire institution.

It was for this reason that the practice of reappointment or extension of the military chiefs or services chiefs all over the world was a ‘very rare’ phenomenon, said the senior SC lawyer who had prosecuted former military ruler Gen Musharraf on treason charges.

He said: “In Pakistan, unfortunately, we have spent more than half of our life under direct military rule or the indirectly controlled governments, which has badly impacted our real strength and has told upon the vital organ of the state which is the most needed institution for the continued protection of our territorial integrity, our spaces and our waters.”

Regular change of command would give the institution an opportunity to exclusively dedicate itself to the much-required reformation at all ranks and foils, said the senior advocate.

“The order and appointment of the Chief of the Army Staff from amongst the top generals on merit will promote the interests of the institution of the armed forces,” he said, adding that the order would also enhance the dignity, honour and respect of the judiciary as this had been the most neglected aspect in the domain of public interest activism.

According to him, it is in the public interest that the judiciary remains totally independent and protects rule of law, strengthens equal protection of laws to all citizens as an institutional value system and strength of the constitutionalism is also upheld at all levels of the judicial organ. So this will usher the judiciary into an era of greater and more independent judiciary, which is the need of the hour. The order would also promote, protect and help the institution of parliament and strengthen it, he reiterated.

Mr Shaikh said that by all means this was a pro-institutional and pro-democracy order as it would also relieve an unnecessary burden on the Chief of the Army Staff who had been reported to be reluctant to accept this office.

“It goes good for all and everyone,” he said, adding that he was of the firm view that this order should be continued and accepted with the pleasure and happiness by the federation and the army chief. The SC lawyer was of the opinion that this would definitely enhance the image of all stakeholders.

Meanwhile, former SCBA president Tariq Mehmood, while commenting on the court order, regretted that what “we are witnessing is not good for the future of the country”.

“It seems as if some kind of circus is before us,” he said, adding that this was not something which was going to benefit in the long term.

Similarly, Advocate Raja Amir Abbas said the cabinet had every right to rectify any wrong if committed earlier by the government.

He said the cabinet was the ultimate decision-making forum and could take decision on important policy matters.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2019