–PPP chief Bilawal says his party will support legislation ‘if it’s done through parliamentary rules’
–PM Imran says judiciary interferes with govt’s authority of filling key positions
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly and Senate’s standing committee on defence on Friday approved the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2020, pertaining to the tenure of the three services chiefs.
Three separate bills – pertaining to amendments to the Army Act, the Navy Act and the Air Force Act – were approved unanimously by the committee. The legislation will now be presented for approval in the National Assembly and Senate on January 6, Monday, respectively.
Prior to the development, the federal government tabled the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2020, to amend the in place Army Act and the Constitution, primarily in order to give a three-year extension to Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
The legislation, which will fix 64 years as the maximum age limit 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, was presented by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak.
According to the proposed legislation, the prime minister will have the prerogative to give an extension to any of them in the future after completion of their normal tenure at the age of 60 years and the president will have the power to give the final nod.
During the brief session – which was subsequently adjourned until Monday – the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) expressed confidence that the bill will be passed with the required simple majority.
‘PPP TO SUPPORT LEGISLATION’:
Speaking to reporters following the session, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that his party will support the legislation “if it is done through the parliamentary rules and regulations”.
He said that the bills will first be sent to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence and the matter will be discussed in the House, adding that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had not taken the opposition into confidence before offering the government their unconditional support on the legislation, which it did a day earlier.
“I think this should have not happened in this way. It is the responsibility of the leader of the opposition to unite the opposition and maintain consensus among ranks.”
Bilawal said it was a “small victory” for his party that the government was not bulldozing the bill through the House and was instead following parliamentary rules and regulations in this regard.
“If important bills are passed without following the parliament’s procedure it will set a bad precedent for the future,” he said.
“I am still a little confused on what the actual stance of the government is as the government has also challenged the Supreme Court’s order through its review petition which on its face looks like a contradiction to me,” the PPP chief said, adding that he hoped this contradiction will be removed after passage of this bill.
‘IMPORTANT STEP FOR CIVILIAN SUPREMACY’:
Addressing a press conference outside Parliament House, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan congratulated opposition parties and their members for fulfilling the “important responsibility,” adding that their patience was also worthy of recognition.
“This is an important step towards civilian supremacy and it has proven that if leadership has vision they can turn every challenge into an opportunity,” she said.
She said that the Parliament had started the democratic process to take the premier’s “democratic authority” forward.
“Today a democratic process has been initiated,” she said, expressing hope that the amendments would also be accepted through the democratic process.
PM COMPLAINS OF JUDICIAL INTERFERENCE:
Prime Minister Imran Khan, earlier, chaired a parliamentary party meeting during which the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) chairman and member of the National Assembly Ramesh Kumar questioned why the government challenged the bill in Supreme Court if it was to be put for legislation.
The prime minister said the appointment of key positions is the responsibility of the government, adding that the judiciary interferes with the administration’s authority.
According to reports, the party’s parliamentary members were also briefed on the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Ordinance 2019.
The premier said bureaucrats and the business community had raised concerns regarding NAB and the development of the economy was stagnant due to these concerns.
He said the NAB Amendment Ordinance 2019 is in the best interest of the country, and that the government committee is in talks with the opposition regarding the matter.
GOVT WOOS OPP:
In a rare show of agreement, the government and the opposition reached consensus on Thursday over the proposed amendments to the Army Act. PML-N assured the government of its “unconditional” support to the bill, but PPP cautioned the government against displaying haste in the matter to ensure proper and sagacious legislation through the parliament.
Law Minister Farogh Naseem had said all parties and stakeholders were on the same page regarding the passage of the bill.
Earlier, in an urgent meeting on Wednesday, the federal cabinet had unanimously approved proposed amendments to the Constitution and the Army Act in order to give a three-year extension to Gen Bajwa.
Prime Minister Imran Khan 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 decided to introduce the amendment bill in parliament on Friday after building a consensus with the opposition on the matter.