Islamabad: The Supreme Court of Pakistan gave the government an ultimatum of six months to justify why it granted a controversial extension to the country’s army chief, an unprecedented move that pits the judiciary against the government and the military.
Prime Minister Imran Khan through an official notification of August 19 granted a three-year extension to General Bajwa, citing “regional security environment” over its rivalry with India. But in a surprise ruling, 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. However, the court granted a temporary six-month extension to Bajwa’s tenure, 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.”
The unprecedented action by the apex court shook the high echelon of powers as the government scrambled to control the damage. Khan held an emergency Cabinet meeting to deal with the precarious situation, with Gen Bajwa himself attending the deliberations. Farogh Naseem, who resigned from his post as law minister to pursue the case, represented Gen Bajwa in the court.
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 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. “This is without a doubt the most shambolic episode in the PTI government's tenure so far,” said an editorial in Dawn. “Surely there are other officers more than capable of leading the army. General Bajwa’s next step will determine whether he is thinking of himself or his institution.”