ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Thursday declared the Supreme Court’s verdict in the case about the army chief’s extension as a “victory of the government as well as the Constitution” and claimed that the opposition would be committing “contempt of court” if it did not vote in favour of amendments to Article 243, “as directed by the top court”.

In the next six months the government has to get Article 243 of the Constitution amended through “an act of parliament” that would define the army chief’s period of service, nature of the service, and whether he was being reappointed or granted an extension in service.

“As it is [an amendment in Article 243] directed by the Supreme Court, therefore the opposition may face contempt charges if it does not help pass the amendment,” said Mr Naseem, who resigned from the office of law minister on Tuesday to pursue the case as the army chief’s lawyer.

He was speaking at a joint press conference along with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information (SAPM) Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, SAPM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar and Attorney General Anwar Mansoor. “Gen Bajwa’s term is not of six months. He will serve his full tenure whatever it will be. There is no ambiguity in it,” Mr Naseem said.

Says Bajwa will serve his full tenure

However, senior opposition leader and former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani told Dawn that the former minister was unaware that parliament and its proceedings could not “become the subject matter of contempt proceedings”.

At the press conference, Mr Naseem also criticised media for what he called “running fake news” during the three days of court proceedings on the issue of extension in Gen Bajwa’s service. “His [COAS] term is starting at 12 [midnight] today and it is a wrong impression that his tenure will end after six months,” he said.

“For the future, the parliament and federal government will decide what should be the tenure period of the army chief. Can he be reappointed? Can any extension be given to him?” he said.

Mr Naseem said the media, in fact the entire nation, should support the army chief as he was a noble, kind and patriotic person and stood by democracy, Constitution and the rule of law. “Our enemy does not want to see him in service but he is standing like a rock,” said the former law minister.

He went on to claim that not a single summary or notification of the government about extension in the service of army chief was rejected by the top court. “It was an important and sensitive case; we did not want to confront the court, agreed to what the court suggested to us and made changes in the notifications in the light of its directives,” he remarked.

Mr Akbar said some “external forces” tried their best to manipulate the issue during the three days of hearings on it but the government was thankful to the judiciary for coming up with a “historic decision”.

Attorney General Mansoor said the court had asked the government to settle the issue of appointment and/or extension in the service of army chief through “an act of parliament”.

He said the government had employed the same modus operandi which had been adopted for giving extension in the tenures of several army chiefs since 1973. “When we observed that the Supreme Court was heading in the right direction and wanted rule of law and the Constitution, which was also desired by the prime minister, we made amendments to the notifications,” he said.

He said the third draft notification presented to the top court on Thursday too was amended as Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa ordered that the words “Supreme Court” be removed from it.

Mr Mansoor said that on the directives of the court the government would get Article 243 amended and it would not touch Section 255 of the Army Rules & Regulations [which relates to the appointment and reappointment of senior army officials and not the army chief].

He said as there was no law regarding extension in the service of army chief, the credit would now go to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government to formulate such a law for the first time.

Opposition’s reaction

In response to Mr Naseem’s remarks that why the previous governments did not amend the article in question, Mr Rabbani said the former minister was trying to shift the burden of his blunders to the opposition.

“Mr Farogh [Naseem] also committed such blunders recently in the appointment of the Federal Insurance Ombudsman and members of the Election Commission of Pakistan but they were struck down by the Islamabad High Court,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2019

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