Much ado about extension, by Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

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Government has another option of filing a review petition in the apex court.

The extension of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa generated a heated debate both at home and abroad after the apex court of Pakistan suddenly took up the case and within no time announced its verdict asking the government to do legislation and devise mechanism for the appointment of the army chief. While the court verdict tended to draw mixed reaction from all strata of society, it also led to writing of articles; opinions in the print media and talks shows on the electronic media – a thing that was considered a taboo in Pakistan. Social media went one step ahead.

Perhaps it was an extraordinary and unexpected situation for everybody that is why everybody linked to this issue seemed acting in haste and way ward manner. The govt predicament was above board as it failed to jot down even a simple summary. Or the govt cannot be blamed much as it only copied the previous text and issued it. As a matter of fact similar wordings were used in the cases of all those army chiefs who were given extensions in the past but however the different thing this time was the way the prime minister announced this extension on his letter head well before the expiry of army chief’s term. That actually led to raising of eye-brows.

Now the government has to do legislation in next six months, which should not be a difficult task especially when it involves army chief. The Science Minister Fawad Chaudhry has already hinted at forming a parliamentary committee comprising members from all parties. This committee shall look into the matter including changes in the Army Act. While any legislation or changes in this regard should not be a big problem, nevertheless this development has once again put the political parties, especially from the opposition, in a vantage position and they have started positioning themselves in a manner where they could bargain with the government and other stakeholders to get maximum benefits. It does not take Einstein to understand that almost all political parties are only concerned about their own wellbeing therefore they would not lose any opportunity that can yield some benefits for them – even at the cost of those who elected them and sent them to assemblies.

The internal strife and hullabaloo in this matter aside, the issue has its international implications as well. The entire diplomatic community took keen interest in the issue. The diplomatic receptions held during those days had only one topic of discussion and that was army chief’s extension. The Indian media, as we all know, exploited the situation to the hilt. While it still remains a mystery as to how all this episode happened, the fact of the matter is that those wishing to make the extension issue controversial appear to have somehow succeeded in their ulterior designs.

The PTI government once again stood exposed as it miserably failed to handle the situation effectively and timely. So much so the army chief himself had to intervene for rectification of the proverbial summary.

The incumbent government is yet to deliver what it promised to people during the election drive. While people seem to have lost all hopes that this government shall deliver anything during its remaining period, they still consider Prime Minister Khan as a hope. Imran Khan in all his speeches invariably touches upon basic issues confronting all and sundry, especially the downtrodden class; however his vows and promises are yet to be transformed into reality. Time is running out for the PTI government and Imran Khan in particular. They have to act now. Any complacency would not only add to their woes but also provide opposition with an ample opportunity of riding on their nerves.

Now the Parliament is to take up the extension issue and the issue of tenure of the army chief. So far, there is no specified tenure of the army chief either in the Constitution of the Army Act. The government may try to settle the matter by making some changes in the Army Act because taking it to the Parliament for a Constitutional amendment involves risks and delays.

In any case, even if the matter goes to Parliament, there won’t be any disagreement on the tenure of the army chief, which is three years and the MPs would like to continue with the practice. However, the extension issue is a tricky one. MPs may not support the idea of a full term extension rather they may like to fix it for one year or maximum two years. Ostensibly, certain parameters shall also be set for granting the extension. So, it is going to be an uphill task.

Government has another option of filing a review petition in the apex court. The scope of review petitions, by and large, is very limited however the govt would definitely like to avail this option as some of the members of Federal Cabinet have also hinted at filing a review petition.