ISLAMABAD: In a 22-minute session, the opposition-dominated Senate on Wednesday by a voice vote passed the three key bills seeking to empower the prime minister to reappoint and extend tenure of the services chiefs and chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee.

The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020, and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill 2020, which were approved with a majority vote amid protest by the National Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Jamaat-i-Islami, will become acts of parliament after a formal assent by President Dr Arif Alvi.

After suspending the controversial notifications of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government regarding three-year extension and reappointment of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa, the Supreme Court in its order had allowed six-month extension with the ruling that it would be up to the parliament to legislate on the service matter to provide “certainty and predictability” to the post of the COAS.

At the outset of the brief proceedings in the Senate, Leader of the House Syed Shibli Faraz moved a motion to seek suspension of the question hour. Soon after its adoption, Senator Waleed Iqbal laid the reports of the Senate standing committee on defence that had passed the three bills at an emergency meeting on Tuesday and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak moved another motion for suspension of rules to take into consideration at once the bill to amend Pakistan Army Act, 1953, which was swiftly carried.

• Three key bills passed with a majority vote in 22-minute session • NP, PkMAP, JI members stage protest • JUI-F senators abstain from voice vote

The minister then moved the bills one after the other amidst a noisy protest by smaller parties. Senators belonging to the opposition NP, PkMAP and JI started chanting slogans against the bills. They said they had not been invited to the meeting of the Senate panel on defence. They gathered near the chairman’s podium, tore apart copies of the bills and chanted slogans of ‘no, no, and shame, shame’.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami staged a sit-in on the floor of the house while others near the chairman’s rostrum kept chanting slogans. Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) staged a walkout from the house to abstain from voting.

PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar criticised the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party leadership for supporting the bills. He said their leaders were acting against the will of party workers, manifestoes and principles of democracy.

Amid a pandemonium in the house due to the protest, Senate chairman Mohammad Sadiq Sanjrani put the bills to a voice vote, after a clause by clause reading of the amendments, and the house passed them with a majority vote.

In violation of the decision taken by their respective parties, NP Senator Dr Ashok Kumar and ANP Senator Sitara Ayaz voted in favour of the bills.

When the first bill was moved, JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmed shouted that he had not been invited to the house’s standing committee on defence that had already approved the bills in a hurriedly-called session on Tuesday. Though the chair didn’t give him the floor, he said that he had submitted his amendments, seven in number, on the bills with the Senate Secretariat on Wednesday morning that had not been brought on the agenda of the house.

“The house rules are being violated,” he added.

PPP Parliamentary Leader in the House Senator Sherry Rehman also requested the chair that the opposition senators should be allowed to express their concerns. She also wanted to speak about the amendments already submitted by the PPP regarding the bills but the chair did not give her floor saying that their party members had passed the bills in the defence committee.

The session was adjourned immediately after the passage of the bills till Friday.

In all, 90 members of the 103-member house, excluding the self-exiled Ishaq Dar who had not taken the oath after being elected to Senate, attended the session. Prominent among those who were absent from the Wednesday session were PML-N senators Pervez Rasheed, retired general Abdul Qayyum and Chaudhry Tanvir, PPP senators Mian Raza Rabbani, deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwalla and JI chief Sirajul Haq.

All the senators from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), except Mr Hidayat Ullah who was absent, voted in favour of the bills.

Under the bills now passed by both houses of the parliament, the president on PM’s advice can specify tenure and terms and conditions of the services of the army, navy and air force chiefs besides chairman of the joint chiefs of the staff committee. The amendments fix the age of the services chiefs at 64 years in case of their reappointment and extension.

The amendments also include the grant of extension and re-appointment of the services chiefs. However, according to the bills, such appointments, reappointments and extensions won’t be allowed to be challenged before any court on any ground whatsoever.

Just a day ago, the National Assembly and the Senate standing committee on defence, which was convened minutes after the NA session, passed the bills.

The federal cabinet in an unusual haste had approved the proposed amendments at an emergency session on Jan 1 after which the proposed draft were referred to a controversial joint session of the National Assembly standing committee on defence and Senate’s defence committee on Friday. The controversy forced the government to reschedule the legislation process with the consent of the opposition parties. The NA committee then reconsidered the bills on Monday.

Law Minister Farogh Nasim briefed members of the NA committee on various aspects of the three bills. While the PPP intended to introduce some amendments to the bills but the law minister asserted that the proposed changes would require a constitutional amendment. The PPP did not later press for the amendments and the bills were approved by the NA committee, followed by the approval of the NA and the Senate’s standing committee on defence on Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2020

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