FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 11

The Army Act’s miracle

The unanimous passage of the Army Act in the National Assembly and the Senate has removed ambiguities in the previous law which was silent on retirement age limits for the Army, Naval and Air Force Chiefs as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The new legislation has not only removed anomalies in a sensitive issue but also paved the way for the government and the opposition to work together for the welfare of the country.

The National Assembly unanimously passed the bill in 20 minutes after the opposition had accepted the government’s plea to withdraw its proposed amendments. It marked the end of frosty relations between the government and the opposition. The rare consensus between the bitterly hostile sides in the parliament sparked off speculation among analysts that “grand reconciliation” is in the making in the country.

Through one of its proposed amendments, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the second largest opposition party, had sought “a role for the parliamentary committee on national security” for reappointment of the Services Chiefs and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The amendment required Prime Minister Imran Khan to appear before the parliamentary committee on national security to record reasons for giving an extension to or for reappointment of the Services Chiefs and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The party, however, failed to muster support from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). It once again brought differences between the two mainstream opposition parties to the fore. The two were willing to support the bill but the PPP was seeking some time for face-saving but the PML-N was desperate for its support.

The same unanimity also existed in the Senate which passed the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2020, paving the way for Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to complete his extended term in office. The Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2020 seeks to amend the provisions of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, to specify the tenure and terms and conditions of service of the Chief of the Army Staff or the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee including the grant of extension and their re-appointment. The Pakistan Air Force Amendment Bill 2020 seeks to amend the provisions of the Pakistan Air Force Act, 1953, to specify the tenure and the terms and conditions of service of the Chief of the Air Staff or Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, including the grant of extension, and re-appointment. The Pakistan Navy Amendment Act 2020 seeks to amend the provisions of the Pakistan Navy Ordinance, 1961, to specify the tenure and the terms and conditions of service of the Chief of the Naval Staff or the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The legislation also sets a maximum age of 64 for the Chiefs of the Army, Air Force and Navy. They normally retire at the age of 60 but now will be able to serve until the age of 64, if they are given extension by the government. The President appoints the Services Chiefs on the advice of the Prime Minister for a tenure of three years and their tenures would be extendable to further three years. The President on the advice of the Prime Minister would also determine the terms and conditions of the Services Chiefs in the national security interest or exigencies from time to time.

According to the bill, notwithstanding, anything contained in these acts or any other law, or any order or judgment of any court, the appointment, reappointment or extension of the Army, Air Force or Navy Chiefs, or the exercise of discretion by the appointing authority in this regard, shall not be called into question before any court on any ground whatsoever. The retirement age and service limits prescribed for a General, under the rules and regulations made under the act, shall not be applicable to the Chief of the Army Staff, during his tenure of appointment, reappointment or extension, subject to a maximum age of sixty four years. Throughout the tenure, the Chief of the Army Staff shall continue to serve as a General in the Pakistan Army. However, the retirement age and service limits prescribed for an Air Chief Marshal, under the rules and regulations made under the act shall not be applicable to the Chief of the Air Staff, during his tenure of appointment, reappointment or extension, subject to a maximum age of sixty four years. Throughout the tenure, the Chief of the Air Staff shall continue to serve as an Air Chief Marshal in the Pakistan Air Force. The retirement age and service limits prescribed for an Admiral, under the rules and regulations made under the ordinance, shall not be applicable to the Chief of the Naval Staff, during his tenure of appointment, reappointment or extension, subject to a maximum age of sixty four years. Throughout such tenure, the Chief of the Naval Staff shall continue to serve as an Admiral in the Pakistan Navy.

The legislation came after the Supreme Court of Pakistan had challenged Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to extend the appointment of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa by a further three years. The court also gave six-month extension to General Bajwa on the condition that the law must be approved in the parliament.

Only members of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-i-Islami opposed the law, which means they have lost hopes from the political system and their political future is bleak. The two main opposition parties have shown maturity on the sensitive issue. It is a miracle of the Army Act that it has melted ice between the government and the opposition, which looked impossible until few days ago. They should build on the thaw and continue the cooperation for the welfare of the people, who have pinned high hopes on democracy.

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