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Bajwa Extension: Opposition Extracts Cost for Support to Army Chief

Published Jan 14, 2020
Updated Feb 25, 2020

Legal luminaries and key politicians allege that a deal with the opposition was made allowing speedy passage of the bills for extension of tenure of the service chiefs, the immediately affected being the Army, Chief General Bajwa.

Three bills — the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill 2020 — were passed by the Pakistan National Assembly and Senate post-haste. The opposition which has a majority in the Senate and a strong bench strength in the elected parliament did not even raise a whimper.

“Today, I salute all political parties and the role that they have played [in passing the bills in the National Assembly], especially the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). They [PPP] withdrew their proposed amendments to the bills in greater national interest and stood with the national cause,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said after the bill was passed in the parliament

The bill now an Act gives the prime minister the power to appoint the services chiefs and chairman, joint chiefs of the staff committee. This prerogative to appoint, reappoint or extend the tenures of the chiefs and the chairman importantly cannot be challenged in any court of law. An officer will retire at 60 years and is 64 years in case of reappointment and extension.

The Act seems to have met the observation and demands of the Supreme Court of Pakistan which had taken umbrage to the extension granted by Prime Minister Imran Khan without specific stipulations for the same and was thus seen as arbitrary.

Nevertheless the haste with which the parties passed the bill has raised questions about their credibility and intent. This comes  against the backdrop of the large number of pending corruption cases against key opposition leaders such as Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif who is presently on medical leave of sorts from jail in London.

PPP Co-Chair Asif Ali Zardari and his sister were also recently released on bail and are facing similar trials in the court.

The undue haste with which the bills were passed has led to PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah who was arrested on trumped-up charges of possession of drugs and is now on bail to remark that the Party should not have participated in the passage of bills pertaining to the tenure of services’ chiefs in such haste.

What then is the quid pro quo.

It is the National Accountability (second amendment) Ordinance, 2019 which many political leaders in Pakistan have dubbed as the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) plus harking back to the year 2007 when an arrangement by then head of state General Pervez Musharraf had led to provision of relief to prominent political leaders of the era including Nawaz Sharif. The Ordinance was rejected by the Supreme Court.

The ostensible objective of the Ordinance is to shield the decision makers in the system given the fear of being charged in the future on corruption by a government that is not in power had led to businessmen staying away from government contracts and the civil servants hesitating to take the decision.

A number of political leaders will also benefit from the same as politicians and bureaucrats facing corruption references have started seeking relief under it from accountability courts. National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on the other hand is severely disappointed given the painstaking process of evidence gathering undertaken to place the key leaders behind bars.

The opposition having objective to the Ordinance, a bill is now being tabled in the parliament.

To take the opposition into confidence discussions are ongoing. “We are meeting for the second time on the NAB bill on Monday,” said controversial Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry to the Dawn. “We hope that the NAB bill will also be passed in the same manner after it is prepared in the light of the government-opposition’s agreement on the document.”

Clearly politics is about give and take. The price of Army Chief Bajwa’s extension appears to be the NAB Ordinance which will be converted into an act which is likely to dilute the provisions thus paving way for grant of relief to political leaders and civil servants alike.

The obvious reference to the NRO Plus has been made by noted legal luminary and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Aitzaz Ahsan “Nawaz Sharif has secured his three billion pounds.”

Apparently as the more things change, the more they remain the same in Pakistan.