Pakistan’s top court strikes down three-year extension for army chief

Saturday, 30 November 2019 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Mohammad Farogh Naseem, defence lawyer of the Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, walks with lawyers as he leaves the Supreme Court premises in Islamabad, Pakistan - Reuters


ISLAMABAD (Reuters): Pakistan’s top court on Thursday gave the government six months to justify why it granted a controversial extension to the country’s army chief, in a rare case that pits the judiciary against the government and the military.

The cabinet of prime minister Imran Khan approved a three-year extension for General Qamar Javed Bajwa in August, citing a worsening national security situation in the region over its rivalry with India.

But in a surprise ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court suspended the extension, citing a series of irregularities and ordering the government and the army to produce legal provisions and detailed arguments on the reasoning behind the move.

On Thursday the court granted a temporary six-month extension to Bajwa’s tenure, due to end at midnight, but said the government must pass legislation through parliament in that time to clarify the section of Pakistan’s constitution governing the armed forces.

“We are showing judicial restraint although there is no provision in law to grant an extension,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told the court. “We leave this matter to parliament to make law regarding this.”

Khan welcomed the verdict on Thursday.

“Today must be a great disappointment to those who expected the country to be destabilised by a clash of institutions,” he said in a tweet.

But despite giving a temporary reprieve over its handling of the extension, the episode could weaken the authority of the coalition government, led by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, that now has to pass what is likely to be complex legislation on the military through parliament.

The civilian government has enjoyed good relations with the armed forces, in contrast to the previous government of Khan’s main rival Nawaz Sharif.

It has also led to questions about the future of Bajwa, who has led the military through a period of escalating tensions with India and western neighbour Afghanistan.

The abrupt decision of the court to suspend Bajwa’s extension, and the government’s reaction, has been branded “a comedy of errors” by Pakistan’s media, which is rarely critical of the military.