World / Pak National Assembly passes bill to extend Army chief's tenure by 3 yrs

Business Standard : Jan 07, 2020, 05:58 PM
The Pakistan Parliament is likely to pass a crucial law on Wednesday empowering Prime Minister Imran Khan to grant three-year extension to Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, sources said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Khan had extended 59-year-old Gen Bajwa's tenure through a notification on August 19. However, the Supreme Court in November suspended the government order, citing irregularities in the manner the army chief, a close confidant of Khan, was granted an extension.

On November 28, the apex court granted a six-month extension to Gen Bajwa after being assured by the government that Parliament will pass a legislation on the extension/reappointment of an army chief within six months.

After initial dithering, the government got support of the main Opposition parties and on Friday introduced three bills in the National Assembly or lower house to extend the retirement age from 60 to 64 years for the chiefs of army, navy and air force, and the chairman of the joint chief of staff committee.

It was expected to pass the laws the same day but decided to send them to the defence committee of the National Assembly and Senate on insistence of the Pakistan Muslims League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party - the two key opposition parties.

The committee in a joint sitting on the same day gave approval to the bills and it was announced that the laws would be passed on Monday.

But things changed on Saturday when Opposition alleged that the committee was chaired by its secretary and not by its chairman which was illegal and not empowered to approve the bills.

It forced the government to convene another meeting of the committee on Monday so that the legal lacunae could be addressed.

Sources in the government told PTI that the laws would be passed on Wednesday if everything went according to the plan.

"We hope that the issue would be resolved and the laws passed on Wednesday," according to the sources.

But there is one hurdle as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl led by veteran cleric and politician Maulana Fazlur Rehamn announced to oppose the bills. Though, he lacks numerical strength to bock the legislation but government is trying to take him on board to create a broader consensus.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), an ally of Prime Minister Khan, announced on Sunday to meet the cleric to address his concerns.

Sources said that the government can delay the enactment for a day or two if the cleric came up with some demands that could not be met before Wednesday.

"Otherwise, there is no hurdle and the issue of extension will be solved during the coming week," according to the government sources.

The powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has wielded considerable power in deciding matters concerning security and foreign policies.