Cabinet rushes out draft bill on COAS extension

Updated January 02, 2020

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The federal cabinet at an urgent meeting on Wednesday approved proposed amendments to the Constitution and the Army Act in order to give a three-year extension to Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. — AFP/File
The federal cabinet at an urgent meeting on Wednesday approved proposed amendments to the Constitution and the Army Act in order to give a three-year extension to Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet at an urgent meeting on Wednesday approved proposed amendments to the Constitution and the Army Act in order to give a three-year extension to Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s order to remove ambiguity in rules on the issue of extension in the army chief’s tenure, the government also decided to introduce the amendment bill in parliament on Friday after building a consensus with the opposition on the matter.

“According to an amendment, the maximum age limit for an army chief will be 64 years and this will be applied in case of extension in his term, but the regular age limit of COAS will be 60 years,” a cabinet member said, insisting that it would be the prime minister’s prerogative whether to give extension to the army chief in future.

The Supreme Court in its detailed verdict released on Dec 16, 2019 in the case pertaining to Gen Bajwa’s service extension had emphasised that it was up to the parliament to carry out legislation that would provide “certainty and predictability” to the post of the COAS for all times to come.

The decision to approve the proposed amendments in the Constitution and the Army Act 1952 was made in the federal cabinet’s meeting held on Wednesday on a single-point agenda of extension in the tenure of the army chief.

Decides to table bill in parliament tomorrow after consulting the opposition on the matter

Prime Minister Imran Khan presided over the meeting.

Interestingly, the scheduled post-meeting presser of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Informa­tion Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan was cancelled without providing any reason to the media.

According to a cabinet member who did not want to be named, the meeting approved the proposed three-year extension in the tenure of the army chief, indicating that Gen Bajwa would continue to serve as the COAS till 2023.

Earlier in August 2019, PM Khan through a notification had attempted to extend the tenure of Gen Bajwa. However, finding irregularities in the manner in which the extension had been granted, the apex court suspended the government notification on Nov 26 last year.

Amid heightened uncertainty as Gen Bajwa was set to retire on the night of Nov 28, the Supreme Court through a short order announced that in view of the government’s assurances on the subject, the COAS may continue to serve for another six months during which parliament would legislate to settle the issue of extension or reappointment of an army chief.

“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 SC judgement stated.

It said Regulation 255 and other Regulations of the Army Regulations (Rules) on the subject of “retirement” appear to be ultra vires of the Pakistan Army Act, as Section 176 of the Pakistan Army Act assigned the subject of “retirement” to be regulated under the Rules and not under the Regulations. The Regulations can be made only for matters other than those which are to be dealt with under the Rules.

In view of the legal vacuum regarding tenure and extension of a general and the assurance given by the attorney general to process legislation on the subject within six months, and also considering the importance of the responsibilities of the COAS regarding administration and organisation of the Army, it is appropriate that the incumbent COAS may continue for a period of six months, in order to preserve continuity of the institution, the verdict said.

Consensus

Before placing the bill before the parliament seeking amendments to Constitution and Pakistan Army Act on Friday, the government has decided to hold negotiations with the opposition to seek consensus on the matter.

It was learnt that Defence Minister Pervez Khattak will lead the government’s team while ex-defence minister Khawaja Asif of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will head the opposition side. The meeting is likely to take place in the parliament during ongoing session of the two houses of the parliament — Senate and the National Assembly.

Talking to Dawn, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Naveed Qamar said as the government had hinted at moving the bill in the National Assembly on Friday [tomorrow], a meeting between the government and the representatives of the opposition parties was expected on Thursday (today).

Asked whether his party had discussed the matter with its ranks, Mr Qamar replied: “We will do it after seeing the draft. So far nothing is before us.”

He said they [opposition] did not want the government to bulldoze the important legislation and they would like to hold a debate on it in the parliament and the relevant committee.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2020