The National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence unanimously approved the three bills concerning tenures of the services chiefs and the chairman of joint chiefs of staff committee, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak confirmed on Monday.
"The amendments were passed unanimously by the body. I congratulate the entire country and the opposition parties," the minister said, adding that these bills will now be put up for voting in the NA tomorrow.
Responding to a journalist's question, Khattak said all political parties were on the same page regarding the matter.
"No one has backtracked, we should avoid rumour mongering. All political parties are on the same page and are standing alongside the armed forces."
Meanwhile, Law Minister Farogh Naseem, while talking to media personnel after the approval, said the "opposition was looking for the creation of a role for a parliamentary committee [for services chiefs' appointment]".
"But I convinced them legally that the changes they are recommending require a constitutional amendment," the law minister added.
"A parliamentary committee's role will come into play only after a constitutional amendment creates that role... and even the Supreme Court has not asked us to amend the Constitution," he said, adding that the opposition members accepted his arguments with a "big heart".
The bills were reconsidered by the NA committee today after the body had earlier approved the amendments in a rushed session on Friday.
Informed sources in the government had on Saturday told Dawn that a new timeline for the entire legislative process had been agreed upon under which the NA standing committee on defence after approving the bills on Monday will lay its report before the house on Tuesday and the assembly would pass the bills the same day before referring them to the Senate for a similar procedure.
The Senate defence committee, too, would be required to approve the bills on Tuesday and present its report to the house on Wednesday (Jan 8) for the immediate passage of the bills, the sources added.
The government that wanted to get the bills passed at the earliest had to postpone the sessions of the two houses convened for Saturday when the opposition protested over the “undue haste” being shown by the ruling coalition.
The government, the sources said, had agreed to the new timeline on the demand of the opposition parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that had presented its own timeline in light of the directives received from the party supremo Nawaz Sharif from London for the whole process, suggesting that the bills should be passed on Jan 15.
When contacted, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry confirmed to Dawn that the NA standing committee on defence had been rescheduled for Monday to take up the bills again. He, however, refused to offer any comment on the newly agreed timeline.
Mr Chaudhry said the most important thing for the government was to complete the whole process with consensus.
“Now it’s important to accommodate opposition’s concerns. We are to create a balance between two things. Number one that the matter should not linger on for an indefinite period because of the situation and secondly we want to do it with consensus,” the minister said, adding that “we have agreed to place the bills before the NA committee again on Monday for the sake of developing a consensus”.
On Friday, after a meeting attended by members of the defence committees of both houses, Law Minister Farogh Naseem had announced that the bills had been passed and that there was no need for seeking a separate approval from the Senate committee.
The minister’s claim, however, had been refuted by the opposition members.
PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan claimed that the bills had not been passed by the NA committee, which had invited the Senate committee members as special invitees. He was of the opinion that the senators who attended the meeting had no right to take part in the voting as the bills were yet to be tabled before the Senate.
Sources in the PML-N confirmed that ex-PM Sharif, who was currently under treatment in London, had sent special instructions to the party legislators, telling them that it was “not in the interest of any party to show undue haste or to bulldoze the rules and procedures”.
In his message, a copy of which is available with Dawn, Mr Sharif expressed his pleasure over government’s decision to extend the time by 24 hours and then suggested another timeline. “Such important bills cannot be passed in 24 or for that matter 48 hours. We would like to look at the bills positively for stability in the country. However, we cannot possibly allow the dignity of the parliament to be compromised,” Mr Sharif said in his message, sent to several senior leaders of the party including parliamentary leader and former defence minister Khawaja Asif.
Mr Sharif had suggested that the NA committee on defence should consider the bills on Jan 7 and send its report to the house on Jan 8 for a debate. He had suggested that the NA should “consider, debate and vote” on the bills on Jan 9 and 10.
According to the timeline he suggested, the Senate will refer the bills to its standing committee for consideration on Jan 13 and the Senate will debate and vote on it on Jan 15.
“This is the minimum possible timeframe for the passage of the bill with meaningful input from all concerned. We should also be cognizant of the fact that the Parliament should not be seen to rubber-stamp a bill of such importance,” the ex-premier stated, adding that the “political fallout for all parties will be substantial, if parliamentary norms are not properly observed”.
The government had introduced the three bills in the National Assembly on Friday as per the Supreme Court directive to remove ambiguity in laws and to provide legal ground to the extension given to Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa after the SC suspended controversial notifications of the government in this regard last year.