Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 February 2020

Judicial snub casts doubt on Pakistan army head’s future as military chief

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa's term has been suspended

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa stands before the start of the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad on March 23. AFP
Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa stands before the start of the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad on March 23. AFP

In a surprise decision, Pakistan’s Supreme Court blocked the powerful head of the army from extending his tenure and put the judiciary on a potential collision course with the country’s military.

The court on Tuesday suspended the government’s authorisation for Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to take a new three-year term, only two days before he is due to leave his post.

Asif Khosa, the country’s chief justice, questioned the basis for giving Gen Bajwa a new term.

The chief justice said the matter would be heard again today, but the extension for Gen Bajwa, chief of army staff, was suspended until then.

Gen Bajwa’s extension was widely regarded as a formality, even though it alarmed opposition politicians who said he helped bring Prime Minister Imran Khan to power.

The extended term had been regarded as an attempt by the army to consolidate its influence in a country where the military and politicians have spent decades vying for supremacy.

Analysts said that although an extension still seemed likely, the court’s intervention put Gen Bajwa in the difficult position of now having to argue for it, rather than suggesting it had been forced on him by national security priorities.

When his extension was first announced in August, a government statement said it was “in view of the regional security environment”. The announcement was made days after New Delhi’s decision to abolish self-rule in Indian-administered Kashmir caused cross-border relations to plummet.

The court appeared to demolish that argument.

“The said words are quite vague and if at all there is any regional security threat, then it is the gallant armed forces of the country as an institution which are to meet the said threat and an individual’s role in that regard may be minimal,” Mr Khosa said.

“If the said reason is held to be correct and valid then every person serving in the armed forces would claim reappointment/extension in his service on the basis of the said reason.”

The judge also said the government had appeared to bungle the procedure for granting an extension. First, an extension was given by Mr Khan before it was realised only the president had authority. When this was given, it was then decided that a Cabinet vote was necessary. Yet only 11 of 25 ministers approved.

“The points noted above call for a detailed examination of the matter of extension/reappointment of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of the army staff,” the court concluded.

The judicial snub may reflect unease even among factions of the security establishment at the extension.

Ayesha Siddiqa, an analyst who wrote a best-selling book on the Pakistani military, told Reuters: “The unhappiness in the various institutions at the informal power that the army chief has acquired ... may have brought different institutional forces together to challenge the extension.”

Updated: November 26, 2019 09:20 PM

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