ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly is set to vote on the three legislative bills on the tenure of the services chiefs and chairman of joint chiefs of the staff committee on Tuesday (today) after the NA standing committee on defence approved them for a second time.
The ‘unanimous’ approval of the bills by the NA standing committee, which also included members from the opposition, during an in-camera session on Monday indicates that the bills are likely to smoothly sail through the lower house.
According to the expedited timeline agreed between the opposition and the government, the amendment bills will also be introduced in the Senate on Tuesday before being referred to the Senate’s defence committee, which is expected to endorse the bills the same day. The Senate is likely to vote on the bills on Wednesday after which they will finally go for presidential assent.
The NA panel on defence on Monday deliberated upon the bills for a second time after the Friday controversy over their approval in less than an hour at a joint meeting of the Senate and NA committee members. When the opposition protested over the “undue haste” being shown by the ruling coalition, the government had to postpone the sessions of the two houses convened for Saturday. The government agreed to the new timeline on the demand of the opposition parties.
Defence committee approves the amendments for a second time within a week
“The amendments were passed unanimously by the NA defence committee,” Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said. He rejected the impression that the opposition parties were having second thoughts about their support for the legislation, saying all were on the same page.
The three bills are the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill 2020.
The Supreme Court had while deciding legal challenge to the second tenure for Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa had asked the government to define the tenure, terms and conditions of service of the army chief and got their approval from the parliament within six months.
In an unusual haste, the federal cabinet had approved the proposed amendments at an emergency session last Wednesday.
As per the amendments approved by the NA committee, appointment of the services chiefs and chairman, joint chiefs of the staff committee would be the prerogative of the prime minister and his decision to appoint, reappoint or extend the tenures of chiefs and the chairman cannot be challenged in any court of law. The upper age limit for a four star appointment has been fixed at 64 years in case of reappointment and extension, otherwise the officer will retire at the age of 60 years.
Law Minister Farogh Nasim briefed members of the NA committee on various aspects of the three bills. The main opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party — intended to introduce some amendments to the bills but the law minister told them at the meeting that the proposed changes would require a constitutional amendment. According to a committee member, the opposition parties did not later press for the amendments and the bills were approved with consensus.
Opposition submits proposed changes
Through one of their proposed amendments, the opposition parties had sought “a role for the parliamentary committee on national security” for the reappointment of the services chiefs and chairman. The amendment required the prime minister to appear before the parliamentary committee on the national security to record reasons for giving an extension to or for reappointment of the services chiefs and chairman, joint chiefs of the staff committee.
While talking to the media outside the parliament house on Monday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said his party had presented three amendment proposals before the NA committee as well as in the National Assembly Secretariat. Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “When our members in the committee had raised this bill, the government had said that they will consider it. But I think that they are playing a game with us which is why we have submitted our amendments in the Secretariat as well. As far as the contents of the amendment go, in one of them, it is related to the role of the parliamentary committee as when the Prime Minister gives an extension; he should present it to a National Security Committee and record the reasons. This way, we have presented some amendments according to the court’s approach and the process of the appointment.”
Earlier in August 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan extended Gen Bajwa’s tenure through a notification, but the apex court suspended it on Nov 26 due to irregularities in the manner of extension. After three days of heightened uncertainty, the SC in its order announced that Gen Bajwa would remain the COAS for another six months during which it would be up to the parliament to carry out legislation to provide “certainty and predictability” to the post of the COAS for all times to come.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2020