Govt approves amendments to Army Act in 'emergency' cabinet meeting: sources

Updated January 01, 2020

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Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs meeting of the Federal Cabinet at PM Office Islamabad on November 12, 2019.
Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs meeting of the Federal Cabinet at PM Office Islamabad on November 12, 2019.

The PTI-led government, during an emergency meeting of the federal cabinet on Wednesday, made amendments to the Army Act, according to sources within the cabinet.

The amendments, passed unanimously, were made to the clauses related to the army chief's tenure and extension. The meeting was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The government has yet to share details regarding the amendments. According to Samaa TV, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said that the cabinet approved amendments in Section 172 of the Army Act. The amendment bill also includes a suggestion to extend the tenure of all the three services chief, Khattak was quoted as saying.

On November 28, the Supreme Court in a short order announced that Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa will remain the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) for another six months, during which the parliament would legislate on the extension/reappointment of an army chief.

The top court's ruling came in the nick of time as Gen Bajwa was set to retire at midnight. Prime Minister Imran Khan had extended Bajwa's tenure through a notification in August, but the top court suspended it on November 26 due to irregularities in the manner of extension.

On December 26, the government submitted a review petition against the top court's verdict and asked that it be set aside.

"The review petition was filed [in the Supreme Court] because our legal team thoroughly, comprehensively, and closely reviewed all aspects of the decision and concluded that there are several legal gaps in the verdict," prime minister's aide Firdous Ashiq Awan had said while talking to the media.

She, however, said that the option of legislation through the parliament will remain intact even after filing of the review petition, adding that Law Minister Farogh Naseem will brief the media in detail about this.

Jointly moved on behalf of the defence ministry, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Presi­dent Dr Arif Alvi and Gen Bajwa, the review petition was filed soon after Law Minister Farogh Naseem paid a visit to the Attorney General Office.

The petition was filed under Article 188 of the Constitution dealing with the review jurisdiction under which earlier orders of the court can be altered only if some error is highlighted, as well as under Article 187 that empowers the top judiciary to issue directives to do complete justice.

Ball in parliament's court

The Supreme Court, in its detailed judgment, emphasised that it is now up to the parliament to carry out legislation that will provide "certainty and predictability" to the post of COAS for all times to come.

The court summarised its findings after exploring the scope of Article 243 of the Constitution — which governs the army chief's appointment, reviewing the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, the Pakistan Army Act Rules, 1954, and the Army Regulations (Rules).

"We would like to emphasise that this crucial matter of the tenure of COAS and its extension, which has a somewhat chequered history, is before the Parliament, to fix for all times to come," wrote Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, a member of the three-judge bench which heard the case, in the court's 43-page judgment.

"It is now for the people of Pakistan and their chosen representatives in the Parliament to come up with a law that will provide certainty and predictability to the post of COAS, remembering that in strengthening institutions, nations prosper," the court had noted.