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Agenda 2020: Pakistan Army: Uncertain Drums in 2020

Published Jan 03, 2020
Updated Mar 02, 2020

All signs indicate that the year 2020 may be a challenging one for Pakistan more so for the Pakistan Army an institution that claims to own the State. The last few weeks of 2019 were prophetic for the Army suffering two body blows of sorts with a serving chief denied extension by the Supreme Court while a retired awarded the death sentence with the ignominy of public hanging.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that the parliament needs to amend the army act for grant of extension to the army chief within six months.

Moving quickly on 01 January 2020, possibly the New Year being seen as an auspicious occasion, Pakistan’s Federal Cabinet held an emergency meeting to approve amendments in the Army Act in view of the directions given by the Supreme Court on the extension given to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar JavedBajwa. The amendments will then be placed in the parliament.

President Arif Alvi had convened a session of both the upper and lower house of the parliament on a twenty-four hour notice.

The objective of the meeting was to regulate the extension given to General Bajwa through a notification by the Prime Minister Mr Imran Khan in August which had been suspended by the Supreme Court on November 26, two days before retirement of the Army Chief and given a six-month extension for the parliament to decide on the matter.The meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khanapporoved the amendments in Section 172 of the Army Act which also includes extension of tenure of all the three services chiefs.

The government has also submitted a review petition against the Supreme Court’s verdict. “The review petition was filed [in the Supreme Court] because our legal team thoroughly, comprehensively, and closely reviewed all aspects of the decision and concluded that there are several legal gaps in the verdict,” prime minister’s aide Firdous Ashiq Awan had said while talking to the media. Despite this the option of legislation through the parliament will remain intact even after filing of the review petition.

The petition was jointly moved on behalf of the defence ministry, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Presi­dent Dr ArifAlvi and Gen Bajwa under Article 188 of the Constitution dealing with the review jurisdiction under which earlier orders of the court can be altered only if some error is highlighted, as well as under Article 187 that empowers the top judiciary to issue directives to do complete justice as reported by the Dawn.

Approval of the amendments to the Army Act by the Cabinet are likely to be to avoid charges of contempt of court by the Supreme Court when the review petition is presented to the same. The government hopes that by following parallel tracks the necessary approval to extension of tenure of the Chief will be achieved and honour of the high offices of the Prime Minister and the President which had approved the extension in the first place would be restored.

The necessary amendments are likely to be passed in the parliament as political parties including the opposition will not take on the Army over an issue involving the Chief.

The main opposition party the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz has already indicated that it will support the legislation.

This may set to rest the controversy that had arisen over extension to the Army Chief which had raised hackles within the top brass of the military which had lost out on the rising to the higher ranks.

On the other hand this may only widen the rift and create further challenges for General Bajwa to manage the military.

The other and more contentious issue is that of award of death sentence to the previous Chief and President General Pervez Musharraf

A special court in Islamabad convicted former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf  of high treason and awarded the maximum death sentence under Article 6 of the Constitution, a first for the country’s history where the powerful military has been brought to book.

Article 6 of the Constitution says: “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.” The punishment for high treason is death or lifetime imprisonment, according to the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973.

While appeals have been filed and the Army as well as some political parties have taken up the issue for review what trajectory the case takes remains to be seen?

Nevertheless with Bajwa’s extension in a limbo and Musharraf’s head on the block so to say, the Army also has to face the challenge of an aggressive Indian Army whose new chief General M M Naravane said on taking over command on 01 January 2020 that pre-emptive operations will be launched to target terrorist concentrations in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Shielding the terrorists before inducting them in Jammu and Kashmir for summer operations in 2020 will become all the more difficult for the Army.