Senate loses no time in passing tenure bills to meet expedited timeline

Updated 08 Jan 2020

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The bills, which were approved by the house's standing committee on defence yesterday, were moved for voting, one after the other, by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak. — DawnNewsTV
The bills, which were approved by the house's standing committee on defence yesterday, were moved for voting, one after the other, by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak. — DawnNewsTV

The Senate on Wednesday bulldozed the three bills concerning the tenure of the three services chiefs — chief of army staff, chief of air staff and chief of naval staff — and the chairman of the joint chief of staff committee, a day after the National Assembly passed these bills.

With the two major opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — already on board, the opposition-dominated upper house passed the bills in no time, which will now become acts of parliament after formal assent by President Dr Arif Alvi.

The bills, which were approved by the house's standing committee on defence yesterday, were moved for voting, one after the other, by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani then put up these bills for a voice vote after a clause by clause reading of the amendments, with a majority of members in the upper house calling out "Aye".

The session was adjourned immediately after the passage of the bills till Friday, 10:30am.

The bills — the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill 2020 — landed in the Senate on Tuesday. While they were not part of the original agenda issued for the Senate sitting yesterday, they were brought to the upper house through a supplementary agenda. In the absence of Defence Minister Pervez Khatak, the bills were introduced by the Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati amid the opposition’s uproar.

The Senate session lasted only 20 minutes and no other agenda other than the laying of a few reports was taken up.

Subsequently, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani forwarded the three bills to the Senate standing committee for approval, which held an emergency meeting within minutes after adjournment of the Senate sitting and passed them unanimously.

'Nation united when country is in danger'

Prime minister's aide Firdous Ashiq Awan said that by passing the tenure bills, political parties had "shown political maturity" and had "strengthened Pakistan and national interest".

Speaking to the media after the Senate sitting concluded, Awan said that the "nationalhood (sic), unity, national harmony" shown in the Upper House today was proof that the nation unites whenever the country is faced with challenges.

She further said that the unity seen in the National Assembly yesterday was reflected in the Upper House today. She expressed hope that political parties will work with the same "harmony and unity" while addressing other issues of national interest.

PTI Senator Faisal Javed pointed out that the bills had been passed with overwhelming consensus even though the ruling party was not in majority in the Senate. He said that it was a "good start to 2020" and added that he "hoped that the opposition will continue to play the role of a constructive opposition".

Expected amendments

As per the amendments approved by both houses of Parliament, the 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 the 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.

Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem on Tuesday briefed members of the NA committee on various aspects of the three bills. PPP intended to introduce some amendments to the bills but the law minister asserted that the proposed changes would require a constitutional amendment. PPP did not later press for the amendments and the bills were approved with consensus.

The extension conundrum

Prime Minister Imran had previously extended Gen Bajwa's tenure through a notification in August 2019, but the top court suspended it on Nov 26, 2019, due to irregularities in the manner of extension.

After three days of heightened uncertainty, the apex court, through a short order on Nov 28, 2019, had announced that Gen Bajwa would remain the COAS for another six months during which the parliament would legislate on the army chief’s extension/reappointment.

In its detailed verdict released on Dec 16, 2019, the top court 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.

"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."

Both Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Asif Saeed Khosa agreed with Justice Shah's judgment, with Justice Khosa saying in his additional note that it had been a "shocking revelation" to the bench that the terms and conditions of service of the COAS, the tenure of his office, extension in the tenure of his office or his reappointment to that office "have remained unregulated by any law so far".

In the wake of the apex court’s order, the government had introduced the three bills regarding the services chiefs' tenures in the National Assembly on Friday. They were passed by the lower house on Tuesday and presented before the Senate.