Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had granted an extension to the tenure of the country’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) for another three years on 19 August 2019 in view of the prevailing adverse security situation in the country. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who heads Pakistan’s most powerful institution, was due to retire on 29 November 2019. Extension of COAS in Pakistan is not a taboo, in fact, it is a routine affair. This was the sixth extension of a sitting army chief’s term in Pakistan, the last being that of General Ashraf Kayani in 2010. Four of the six army chiefs later declared martial law in the country. However, the three years term extensions to General Bajwa has generated unprecedented controversy and gathered a lot of media coverage, domestic as well as globally.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the decision to grant a three-year term extension to the powerful Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in a major blow to Prime Minister Imran Khan who had cited “regional security environment” for the move. Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said, “If the (regional security) situation is so then the army as a whole body can deal with the situation, not the individual. If this criterion is allowed then every individual in the army can demand an extension on the same grounds.” He also said Khan’s office has failed to follow procedure by submitting the extension request itself, rather than going through the office of Pakistan’s president.
The petition against Bajwa’s extension was filed by a person named Riaz Rahi, who later filed an application to withdraw it. However, Chief Justice rejected the withdrawal bid and took up the petition as public interest litigation under Article 184.
During the hearing, the chief justice said the notification issued on the matter on August 19 mentioned an ‘extension’ while the notification issued by the Prime Minister’s Office says the army chief has been ‘reappointed’. “As per rules, there is no authority of extending army chief’s tenure or his reappointment. The government can only suspend his retirement and the army chief has not retired yet,” Khosa said.
He also said that only the president of Pakistan can extend the tenure of the Army chief and observed that when the matter was discussed in the Cabinet, only 11 out of 25 members approved the extension.
It is worthwhile to understand the reasons for such a furore against the Army chief who heads the most powerful institution in Pakistan.
Historically, in Pakistan, extensions were granted, as and when an army chief and his core team desired so, without any fuss. Then, why is this hue and cry in case of General Bajwa? Is it because of discontentment among the top echelons within the Pakistan Army itself? If General Bajwa gets three years extension then he can continue as COAS till November 2022 and meanwhile as many as 17 three-star generals will phase out before he hangs his boots. Understandably, this decision did not go down very well with the senior leadership of generals, including his corps commanders. They would have seen it coming but had no choice than to fall in line.
Or is it because of Pakistan Army moved towards radicalization, the seeds of which were sown during General Zia-ul Haq who started implementing his Islamisation policies (out of as much his personal beliefs as his political strategy to deal with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s political legacy). A plea filed by former Major Khalid Shah in Peshawar High Court has levelled allegation that Bajwa belonged to the Qadiani community. The Qadiani community is also known as Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan and has been declared as non-Muslims by the heads of all sects. It is significant to note that according to Pakistan’s Constitution, a non-Muslim officer cannot be appointed as the Army chief and this is where the nature of the allegation assumes significance.
Whatever may be the reasons, there appears to be a visible crack in all important and powerful Pakistan Military Establishment.
27 Nov 19/Wednesday Written by Azeema