ISLAMABAD: The government’s top political wizards moved quickly on Thursday to preclude a possible media guessing game on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case regarding a service extension to/reappointment of General Qamar Javed Bajwa as chief of the army staff.
A three-judge bench of the apex court – headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa – gave the government six month to legislate on the tenure of COAS since the Constitution is silent on the matter.
Speaking at a news conference after the verdict, Barrister Farogh Naseem, who resigned as law minister earlier this week to plead the case in the top court, sought to clarify that the verdict didn’t mean that Gen Qamar would cease to be the army chief after six months.
“Now, it would be parliament’s prerogative to fix the tenure of the army chief,” he said at the news conference where he was flanked by Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Anwar Mansoor Khan and prime ministerial aides Shehzad Akbar and Firdous Ashiq Awan.
Naseem described the apex court ruling as victory of the law and democracy. “The Army Act is pre-Partition and it was never challenged in the past. The procedure adopted in the extension to the army chief was the same that had been followed in the past,” he added.
The former law minister stressed that the matter in the Supreme Court was settled swiftly because of “the strength of the Constitution and the system”. He added that “today, it is the victory of democracy, law and the Constitution.”
In this case, he said Article 243 of the Constitution had been interpreted as a “point of first impression”. He wondered why the matters were not set straight during the past seven decades.
“After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, two governments came to power. Why did they not make things right? When the government of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan came to power, voices are raised,” he added. “We all should have been more responsible in this case,” he said.
Explaining the short order of the apex court, Naseem emphasised that the ruling stated that a new law be introduced under which the army chief’s appointment would be made.
He stressed that his resignation from the cabinet was of his own volition. On the occasion, Firdous said Naseem’s return to the cabinet was a prerogative of the prime minister. She also said that the court ruling should not be linked with any individual.
AGP Khan told the news conference that “it is not a matter of adversity for the government” rather, making a law for army chief’s appointment and extension of his tenure “will be a matter of pride for the government”.
“Today’s decision is a historic decision. The way the Constitution has been interpreted will provide guidance for us in future,” he added. “Various laws were debated and many things came to the fore, which were never before decided in court.”
AGP Khan insisted many army chiefs were appointed and many got extensions by using the same procedure that was employed this time around. Since the Army Act was never challenged in courts before, “no one ever realised the mistakes involved in the procedures”, he added.
He stressed that it had been a tradition to do things the existing way. So when the first notification was issued it was “a routine notification”, he said. “The summaries were the same and the rules were followed in the same manner. There were no additions or any changes made.”
AGP Khan said the court, in its observations, had consistently referred to two things: a general did not have the age of superannuation; and the law did not mention how the chief of army staff would be appointed or his “term of office”.
Shehzad Akbar told reporters that the prime minister’s right to appoint and extend an army chief’s tenure under Article 243 had been accepted. “A new law will be enacted through an act of parliament,” he said. “The Army Act will also be amended.”