• Amendment to army act prescribes two-year imprisonment for ‘ridiculing’ military
• Former officers barred from taking up jobs that conflict with military’s interests
• Ex-servicemen on ‘sensitive posts’ barred from politics for five years after retirement
• Senate also passes bills giving ‘legal cover’ to army’s commercial affairs

ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Thursday passed an amendment to the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, which proposes up to five years in jail for those who disclose sensitive information pertaining to the security of the country or the military.

One of the amendments in the army act also accorded more powers to the chief of army staff and barred ex-servicemen from engaging in politics as well as taking up ventures which could come into conflict with the army’s interest. It also proposed imprisonment for defamation of the army.

According to a senior military official, the amendments will not be applicable to civilians, and only serving and retired military personnel would be impacted.

In addition to several amendments passed in deviation from the routine procedures, the house also passed the Cantonments (Amendment) Bill, Defence Housing Authority Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, and Board of Investment (Amendment) Bill — all directly or indirectly related to the army — giving legal cover to the military’s engagement in commercial enterprises and empowering it to “carry out activities related to national development and advancement of national or strategic interests”.

According to an amendment, “The Pakistan Army may, in the manner as may be prescribed through its affiliated entities, carry out activities that relate to or generate proceeds for, inter alia, welfare and rehabilitation of serving and retired personnel of Pakistan Army, wounded personnel, as well as families of Shuhada (martyrs)”.

“Provided that all such activities already undertaken shall always be deemed to have been validly done under this act,” a proviso added to the section reads.

Changes to army act

The Pakistan Army (Amend­ment) Act, 2023 proposed adding Section 26-A to the act, under which “anyone who discloses or causes to be disclosed any information…shall be […] punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years”. In case, the disclosure is approved by the army chief, it would not be considered a violation.

The bill also proposed introducing Section 26-B, which forbids any person subject to the army act from engaging in any kind of political activity for two years from the date of their “retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.

It further said those who “remained posted, employed, seconded, tasked or otherwise attached on sensitive duties” are forbidden from taking part in “political activity of any kind, during a period of five years from the date of his retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.

In case of violation, a court constituted under the army act can punish them with “rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years”.

Section 55-A forbids any person subject to the army act in the past five years from “directly or indirectly enter[ing] into employment, consultation or other engagement with an entity having a conflict of interest” with the activities of the army or its affiliates. However, the law does not apply to those who seek prior approval from the COAS. A person guilty of the said offence can be imprisoned for up to “two years with fine not exceeding Rs500,000 or with both”, the bill stated.

Section 55-B stated that any person, who is or has been subject to the army act, and commits an offence under the Peca 2016 “with the mala fide intention to undermine, ridicule, or scandalise the armed forces” shall be punished in the manner as prescribed in the Peca law.

Section 55-C stated that a person who is or has been subject to the army act, “intentionally ridicules, scandalises, brings into hatred or otherwise attempts to lower the armed forces of Pakistan or any part will be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or with both”.

A clause introduced to Section 176-C proposed that the COAS “may delegate any of his powers and functions conferred by, or delegated under this act, to any officer or authority subordinate to him”.

Meanwhile, the addition of Section 176-E proposed that the laws under the act “shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other law, rules or regulations for the time being in force”, adding that any such inconsistent law shall, “to the extent of any inconsistency, cease to have effect”.

Senators react

After the army act amendment bill was tabled in the Senate, JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad said that lawmakers had only just received a copy of the proposed legislation and demanded that the chair send the bill, proposed by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, to the committee concerned.

At this, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani went for voting on the motion seeking consideration of the bill at once, which was carried.

The JI senator recalled that his amendment to do away with the provision for extension in the term of services chiefs had not been taken up even after the passage of five months.

PPP Senator Raza Rabbani, however, staged a walkout against the hasty passage of the bill, terming them “blind legislation”.

Army-related legislation

The house also passed the Cantonments (Amendment) Bill, the Defence Housing Authority Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, and the Board of Investment (Amendment) Bill.

A proposed amendment in Section 6 of the DHA Act said the authority may “impose, vary, and recover any fee or charges for rendering any services within any scheme in the specified area including registration fee, transfer fee, management fee, development or re-development charges or additional development charges and maintenance fee, dues and charges etc”.

The bill gave powers to the authority’s executive board and a governing body to make by-laws for the smooth functioning of DHA.

The bill said there was no clear mechanism for the arrangement of security in the specified area earlier. This ambiguity created security threats to the allottees for which the proposed security mechanism has been inserted into the new law, it added.

According to state-run APP, the cantonments bill sought to “improve the financial base of these boards to facilitate development activities within cantonment areas”.

The Board of Investment (Amendment) Bill, introduced through supplementary agenda, said the federal government shall by notification in the official gazette establish the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC).

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2023

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