In a surprise move that threatened to shake Pakistan’s power structure, the country’s Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa on Tuesday suspended the official notification of extension of tenure of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa until a hearing on Wednesday.
The court has also issued notices to the Ministry of Defense, the federal government and General Bajwa, who is scheduled to retire on November 29.
During the court proceedings, the Chief Justice stated that “apparently the summary and approval of the extension of the Chief of Army Staff is not correct”.
The move comes after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s approval for an extension in Gen Bajwa’s tenure for another three years in August. Last week, the decision was followed by the support of a new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, a mostly ceremonial post.
The person appointed, General Nadeem Raza, had earlier been tipped as a contender for the army chief’s position.
Observers say that the order of chief justice Khosa, who will retire on December 12, to suspend the tenure extension of the holder of Pakistan’s most potent position has come as a bolt from the blue.
The chief justice on Tuesday was hearing a withdrawal application of a petition filed by The Jurists Foundation, challenging the extension in Gen Bajwa’s tenure.
He, however, rejected the application and took up the petition in the public interest under Article 184 (3) of Pakistan’s constitution. The case was converted into a suo moto notice.
Khosa asked the attorney general in Tuesday’s hearings whether the notification for the extension was issued on August 19, and the prime minister approved this on August 21.
In reply, the attorney general told the chief justice that the cabinet’s approval was required before the PM’s approval. Khosa then inquired whether the president approved the extension to which the attorney general responded in the negative.
“Only the president of Pakistan can extend the tenure of the army chief,” he said during the hearing, to which the attorney general promised, “We can take approval from the president again.”
But the courtroom drama did not end there. Justice Khosa noted that out of 25 cabinet members, only 11 had approved the extension.
“Fourteen members of the cabinet did not give any opinion due to non-availability. Did the government take their silence as agreement?” Justice Khosa asked.
“Those who did not say ‘yes’ had not taken part in the voting,” the AG informed the court.
“Does the cabinet not want to give members the time to think? The 14 members of the cabinet still have not said ‘yes’ to army chief’s extension,” Khosa pointed out.
Observers are unclear why Khosa has employed a spanner in the works. Many have commented that Justice Khosa abstains from day-to-day politics, unlike the previous Chief Justice, who enjoys cordial relations with the army high command.
It is not clear whether the move will change the strategic relationship between the army’s high command and the civilian structures in the country.
According to one discussion, General Bajwa’s expansion has not gone down well with some army generals.
On Tuesday, the Army High Command announced some significant transfers and postings, bringing Bajwa loyalists to essential positions in the army. All this will now come under question, some will say.
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