Legal tweak to allow PM to retain army officers with stroke of pen
• Among other changes, proposed amendment to Pakistan Army Act 1952 would allow PM to extend officers’ careers through a notification
• Ishaq Dar, Asad Mehmood named to cabinet body that will okay summary for proposed amendment
ISLAMABAD: At a time when the country’s military is preparing for a change of command, the government seems to be considering amending the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952 in a way that would empower the appointing authority — i.e. the prime minister — to retain any candidate through a simple notification, rather than having to go through a complex, constitutional process, it has emerged.
The summary regarding a slew of changes is all set to land before the Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC), following approval by the Ministry of Defence last month, after which the proposed legislation is expected to be laid before parliament.
As per the proposed amendment in Section 176 titled ‘Power to make rules’, sub section (2-a), in clause (a) of the PAA, the word ‘retention’ shall be inserted after ‘reappointment’ in the current text of the law, while the word ‘resignation’ would be inserted after the word ‘release’.
The clause in question currently reads: “The [Federal Government] may make rules for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of this act… Without prejudice to the generality of the power conferred by subsection (1), such rules may provide for the appointment, reappointment or extension, retirement, release, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service of persons subject to this Act, including the Chief of the Army Staff and / or the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.”
In the current political climate, the development is being viewed as a critical one which may change the equation around the change of command expected in the military.
Dawn reached out to Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb as well as several other members of the federal cabinet, but none of them responded to requests for comment.
A senior lawyer with experience in dealing with military-related cases told Dawn that through this amendment, the prime minister would gain the power to have the army chief, or any other senior officer who is set to retire soon, continue in his role until further orders.
“The current legislation calls on the government to follow a set procedure to reappoint or extend the tenure of the army chief, i.e. a summary through the Ministry of Defence, followed by the PM’s approval and a final nod from the president,” he said.
The lawyer added that the proposed change in the PAA could allow the premier to simply issue a notification that orders the ‘retention’ of the army chief, with or without specifying a duration.
Incumbent army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is all set to retire by November 29 after serving for six years, which included one extension in his term. In addition, Lt-Gen Asim Munir, the senior-most of those said to be in the running to become the next army chief, is set to retire a few days before Gen Bajwa’s tenure comes to an end.
It may be recalled that in Nov 2019, the Supreme Court had suspended a notification regarding the extension, stating there were glaring technical errors in the appointment summary issued by the government.
After three days of dramatic hearings, the apex court had asked the government to amend the army act within six months. Subsequently, in 2020, parliament amended the PAA to allow the chief executive, i.e. the prime minister, to extend the tenure of four star generals.
Speaking on a TV channel on Monday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah possibly alluded to the bill that is in the works when he said that the legislation enacted to extend the tenure of the army chief under the PTI regime should be abolished to avoid controversy over the appointment of a new army chief.
It is also interesting to note that the CCLC meeting, which was originally scheduled on Nov 11 to consider the PAA amendment, was cancelled for unknown reasons.
On Monday, the government also notified Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Communications Minister Asad Mahmood as the members of the body. This is a deviation from the norm, as the busy finance minister is not usually part of the CCLC, which is often chaired by the law minister himself.
If it is approved by the CCLC, the draft will be presented before the federal cabinet, or it would be approved through circulation to cabinet members.
Sources in the law ministry say that a meeting to consider the PAA amendment is likely to take place within the week, depending on Mr Dar’s availability.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2022