The extension saga of the current Army Chief of Pakistan has raised several questions on the future of Imran-Bajwa ties as the event dented the civil-military relations, causing embarrassment to the top leadership of Pakistan. Pakistan will need to focus on legislative reforms in order to avoid similar episodes in future, argues Shahneela Tariq (University of Lahore, Pakistan).
On 28 November last year, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that General Qamar Javed Bajwa will remain in his position until May 2020. General Bajwa was due to retire on the night of 28 November, however the delay is another episode between the military and courts and raises a series of important questions about the rule of law and the regulation of the extension of the Chief of Army Staff. Furthermore, this episode highlights the lack of legal knowledge of law-making agencies.
This is not the first time that the extension of an army chief in Pakistan has been legally challenged. It was the first time however in Pakistan’s history that an extension order of an army chief was suspended and dealt with as a matter of public litigation. This is also the first time when a point of law has been raised to process the extension of the Chief of Army Staff. While the matter has been resolved peacefully there has been significant implications on the country’s civil-military relations, raising several important questions on the future of the relationship between Prime Minister Imran Khan and General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Regional security and continuity
Regional and national security issues have long been one of the major frictions in civil-military relations in Pakistan. Many believe that the army continues to be in the driving seat not only to execute security policies but also the foreign policy of Pakistan. General Bajwa was appointed during the PML-N government and he has played a significant role in dealing with the security issues within Pakistan (terrorism and extremism) while the civilian government has failed to address these important issues.
The recently unstable regional security environment could be perceived by some as a factor that contributed to General Bajwa’s time in office being extended. India’s unilateral action of abrogating Article 370 and 35A on the special status of Kashmir, the highly tense situation at the Line of Control after Pulwama incident in February 2019, the Afghanistan peace process and Pakistan’s role in easing the USand Pakistan’s relations with Iran, are all recent security issues that required the presence of current Army Chief in office.
The recent killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani has proved that the strategic situation is worsening, requiring the civil-military leadership to be on same page. (Of course, Pakistan has decided not to be a party to this regional conflict.)
Civil-Military relations and current government
Now the question arises if this extension has dented the civil-military relations in Pakistan? It is not be wrong to say that the incompetency of the law-making bodies has caused embarrassment to the top-ranked officer, and that the Supreme Court has accused the law-making bodies of disrespecting the Army Chief. However, as per the official statements, both leaders are still on the ‘same page’ and the incident has failed to destabilise the institutions of Pakistan. As Prime Minister Imran Khan said in his tweet after the verdict of the Supreme Court: “Today must be a great disappointment to those who expected the country to be destabilised by a clash of institutions. That this did not happen must be of special disappointment to our external enemies & mafias within. Mafias who have stashed their loot abroad and seek to protect this loot by destabilising the country.”
Furthermore, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (the military media wing of Pakistan’s army) said in his briefing that the leadership of army and current civil government complement each other in addressing the security issues within and outside of Pakistan.
Existing Legislation on the Extension
The appointment, re-appointment and extension of the Chief of Army Staff is based on the traditional practices according to the Attorney General of Pakistan since beginning. According to the Article 243 of the constitution of Pakistan the President shall be the authority to decide the appointment of the Army Personnel on the advice of the Prime Minister. Furthermore, Pakistan Army Act of 1952, Pakistan Army Act Rules of 1954 and Army Regulations 1998 provides legal basis to the extension of the CAOS. However, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared the existing legislation as flawed, as it does not provide any applicable legal principles and interpretation of law on the extension / re-appointment of the Chief of Army Staff. In this regard the Supreme Court of Pakistan has tasked the civil government to legislate on this issue within six months.
Another important question rises with the acceptance of the extension, if the government will be able to legislate on these matters until May 2020? It is yet to be known but this incident has helped to process the law to remove ambiguity on the issues related to extension/re-appointment of an Army Chief.
Interestingly, the episode has also revealed that armed forces has limitations in Pakistan, which is considered to be the most powerful institute that has been running the affairs of the country. This extension saga has also put questions on the democratic practices in Pakistan. The federal government has showed its weakness relative to the Judiciary. In order to do legislation Prime Minister Imran Khan will have to take Parliament in confidence and as said by the Chief Justice the government needs to put the house in order. For the purpose government will have to focus on the governance and strengthening the civilian institutes. Apparently, the episode was short-lived, but the consequences and further implications will come to the front in few months.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Photo: F-16A Pakistan. Credit: Rob Schleiffert 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).