–PPP withdraws recommendations on bills ‘keeping in mind country’s and regional situations’
–JUI-F, JI, MNAs from erstwhile FATA vote against bills, walkout from session in protest
–Senate defence body approves all three bills which will now be tabled in Senate on Wednesday
ISLAMABAD: The three bills regarding the tenure of the 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 — sailed through the National Assembly and were later also accorded approval by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Defence on Tuesday.
The bills — the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill 2020 — will be tabled for approval by the Senate on Wednesday.
In a session of the Senate, all three bills had been presented by federal minister Azam Swati. During the presentation, members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and National Party (NP) opposed the bills, chanting slogans of “No, no”.
Subsequently, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani forwarded the three bills to the committee for approval.
Later, Minister for Defence Pervez Khattak said that the bills had been passed unanimously by the committee. When asked if any amendments had been put forth by the PPP, Khattak replied in the negative.
NA ACCORDS APPROVAL TO BILLS:
As the National Assembly session began earlier in the day, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Amjad Ali Khan presented the report of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence regarding the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020.
Later, Defence Minister Khattak requested the PPP to take back their recommendations regarding amendments to the bills “in light of the regional situation”.
“This will create unity in the House and will create a better situation,” he said.
Taking the floor, PPP MNA Naveed Qamar took back his party’s recommendations regarding all three bills.
“Keeping in mind the situation in the country and the new situation in the region and after consulting with the rest of the opposition, […] in order to send a unified message, we (PPP) have decided not to press these amendments,” he said.
Speaker Asad Qaiser conducted a clause by clause reading of each bill, one after the other, putting them up for a voice vote.
Despite religious party members, including JUI-F, JI and representatives from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), walking out of the NA declaring the Lower House to be “fake”, all three bills were approved.
The session was later adjourned till 4pm on Wednesday.
A meeting of the PML-N parliamentary group was also held before the session. Meanwhile, a government delegation met with PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in his chamber.
A day earlier, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence unanimously approved the bills during an in-camera session, an indication that the government and opposition had reached an accord on the passage of the bill.
“The amendments were passed unanimously by the body. I congratulate the entire country and the opposition parties,” Khattak had said.
The Supreme Court had while deciding on the legal challenge to the second tenure for Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa asked the government to define the tenure, terms and conditions of service of the army chief and to get their approval from the parliament within six months.
In an unusual haste, the federal cabinet had approved the proposed amendments at an emergency session last Wednesday.
GOVT’S HASTE SPARKS CONTROVERSY:
The lower houses’ standing committee on defence had deliberated upon the bills for a second time on Monday after their approval in less than an hour at a joint meeting of the Senate and National Assembly committee members on Friday had sparked controversy.
When the opposition had protested over the “undue haste” being shown by the ruling coalition, the government had to postpone the sessions of the two houses convened for Saturday. The government then agreed to a new timeline on the demand of the opposition parties.
As per the amendments approved by the NA committee, the appointment of the services chiefs and chairman of the joint chief of staff committee would be the prerogative of the prime minister and his decision to appoint, reappoint or extend the tenures of chiefs and the chairman cannot be challenged in any court of law.
The upper age limit for a four-star appointment has been fixed at 64 years in the case of reappointment and extension, otherwise, the officer will retire at the age of 60 years.
Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem had briefed members of the NA standing committee on various aspects of the three bills.
The main opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — had intended to introduce some amendments to the bills but the law minister told them at the meeting that the proposed changes would require a constitutional amendment. According to a committee member, the opposition parties did not later press for the amendments and the bills were approved with consensus.
Through one of their proposed amendments, the opposition parties had sought “a role for the parliamentary committee on national security” for the reappointment of the services chiefs and chairman. The amendment required the prime minister to appear before the parliamentary committee on national security to record reasons for giving an extension to or for reappointment of the services chiefs and chairman, joint chiefs of the staff committee.
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.
In the wake of the apex court’s order, the government had introduced the three bills regarding the services chiefs’ tenures in the National Assembly on Friday.