The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government on Thursday reached out to members of opposition parties to garner support for making amendments to the Army Act and the Constitution in order to give a three-year extension to Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.
The move comes a day after the proposed amendments were rushed through the federal cabinet, which unanimously granted its approval for the changes, both to the Constitution and the Army Act. The Supreme Court in November last year had directed the government to remove ambiguity in rules on the issue of extension in the army chief’s tenure.
A delegation of PTI lawmakers, including Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Ali Muhammad Khan and Qasim Suri, met PPP leaders, including the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on Thursday evening.
The PPP leaders at the meeting that took place at Zardari House included Raja Pervez Ashraf, Nayyar Bukhari, Sherry Rehman, Raza Rabbani, Shazia Marri and Naveed Qamar.
According to sources, the PPP assured its support for the amendments, but raised concern over the fact that details of the amendments had not been shared with the opposition lawmakers.
Bilawal during the meeting pushed for the government to follow the parliamentary rules and regulations regarding amendments in the Army Act, party sources added.
Following the meeting, Bilawal tweeted that a government committee had met the PPP to discuss "upcoming legislation".
"The Peoples Party wants to positively engage with the democratic legislative process. Some parties seem to want to sidestep the legislative process," he wrote.
"The more important the legislation the more important it is for us to follow the democratic process. PPP will take this up with other political parties as well."
Earlier in the day, a delegation of PTI lawmakers, including Defence Minister Khattak, Leader of the House for the Senate Shibli Faraz and Senator Azam Swati, met PML-N leaders, where the latter assured their support for the proposed amendments. The PML-N delegation comprised Khawaja Asif, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Rana Tanvir, among others.
PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan, while talking to media, said that the party leadership in London has given the nod to support the amendments through consensus.
Rana Sanaullah, another senior PML-N leader, while talking to reporters in Lahore said the PML-N has decided to do "unconditional cooperation" over amendments in the Army Act and not make the institution of the army and the army chief's office "controversial".
The government is likely to introduce the amendment bill in parliament on Friday (tomorrow) after building a consensus with the opposition on the matter.
The government needs the support of opposition parties to make the amendments as any amendment to the Constitution needs to be approved by at least two-thirds of the membership of each House – the National Assembly and Senate.
According to a copy of the draft amendment bill obtained by DawnNewsTV, the government plans on making amendments to Sections 8, 176 and 176A of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952. A chapter dealing with the appointment of the army chief and the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee will also be added to the Act.
Parliamentary committee holds in-camera session
Later in the evening, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser called an in-camera session of the parliamentary committee on legislative affairs to discuss the amendments in the Army Act. The meeting of the committee, which is made up of 33 federal ministers and MNAs and Senators from the government and opposition, was chaired by Defence Minister Khattak.
Lawmakers from the ruling PTI and other parties were seen coming out of the meeting at intervals to hold consultations with their respective party leaderships, according to sources.
The defence minister said the meeting was "useful and positive" and expressed the confidence that the amendments will be approved by the NA on Friday.
Khattak said the government had yet to contact some political leaders including JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman, which will happen tomorrow.
Law Minister Farogh Naseem told reporters that they gave a detailed briefing to all political parties on the matter and "satisfied" them over their questions. He said the committee will meet again tomorrow at 10:30am before the NA session.
Sources told DawnNewsTV that besides the Army Act, the government also plans to introduce amendments in the Pakistan Air Force Act, 1953, and the Pakistan Navy Ordinance, 1961.
The amendments in the three legislations relate to the service extension and reappointment of the army, air force and naval chiefs and the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
The draft amendment bills regarding all three laws were shared with the members of the parliamentary committee today.
'Do not politicise matters of national interest'
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, while addressing a press conference on Thursday, said matters of national interest should not be politicised.
Awan said she was hopeful that the parliament would play its legal and constitutional role to "once and for all" settle an issue currently being discussed in the parliament. While the premier's aide did not specify the issue being discussed, she appeared to be referring to legislation on the extension of COAS Bajwa's tenure.
"We all have a responsibility to Pakistan's institutions, which are the guarantors of national well-being," she said.
Awan said that the parliament had been approached for a matter which falls under the executive domain of the prime minister.
"God willing, with a consensus, we will settle this important issue and parliament will play a key role," she said.
Apparently comparing the issue of extension in Gen Bajwa's tenure to the appointment of India's army chief as the country's first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Awan said in the "neighbouring country" (India) the defence minister had used the authority of the state's executive branch for the appointment of the army chief as the CDS. "There (in India) you did not see any discussion or debate in the media and neither was this type of commotion created," she added
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handpicked Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat was on Monday appointed as India’s first CDS.
"Matters of national interest, connected to our national identity, should be devoid of politics and the tradition of politicising them in Pakistan should end," the premier's special aide said.
She said the matter being discussed in the parliament concerned Pakistani institutions and not a specific political party or personality.
With additional input from Sanaullah Khan.