ISLAMABAD: It’s a rare moment in Pakistan’s politics when the ruling PTI, and PML-N and PPP in the opposition agree on anything let alone come together to pass a person-specific legislation which will have far-reaching effects on civil military relations.
But in the National Assembly, all mainstream parties hurriedly approved 3 bills regarding the tenure of services chiefs — Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff — and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee, uncharacteristically without a debate.
The 3 bills are: the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill 2020. They are expected to float through the Senate with equal ease, except for opposition from Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, JUI-F and National Party.
Leader of National Party Hasil Bizenjo wrote on his twitter account:
Democracy has died in Parliament House today by the hands of major political parties and so-called champions of democracy.
— Hasil Bizenjo (@hasilbizenjo) January 7, 2020
It was the legal eagle of PTI and former counsel of Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, Law Minister Farogh Naseem, that played a pivotal role in ensuring the bills pass without an opposition in the defense committee.
The PML-N, which came in on the “vote ko izzat do” slogan remained tight-lipped when questioned by journalists what will happen to civilian supremacy when extensions are handed out without as much as a debate. Senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif abstained from answering questions on what prompted PML-N to vote in favour of the bill.
While PML-N’s Secretary General, now in custody of the National Accountability Bureau, sidestepped questions on why PML-N agreed to give an extension and instead lambasted PTI for not building a consensus on the 3 bills, leaving powers that be to do the groundwork.
The main opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — had intended to introduce some amendments to the bills but Law Minister Naseem told them at the meeting that the proposed changes would require a constitutional amendment.
In the National Assembly, the Opposition did not later press for the amendments and the bills were approved with consensus.
Sources tell voicepk.net that the Opposition had sought “a role for the parliamentary committee on national security” for reappointment of services chiefs and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The amendment required the Prime Minister to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on National Security to present reasons for giving an extension to or reappointment of the services chiefs and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
They had also proposed that the provision barring courts to challenge the extension should be scrapped. With the current bills, any extension given cannot be challenged in courts
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-i-Islami and representatives from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), opposed the bill and walked out of the National Assembly, declaring the lower house to be “fake”.
Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement’s Mohsin Dawar tweeted that the dissenting voices were not allowed to make their case
We voted against the #ArmyAct before walking out. This parliament acted like a rubber stamp. Speaker didn’t even allow the few dissenting voices to make their case. This is one of the darkest days in Pakistan’s parliamentary history. It will take a long time to recover from this.
— Mohsin Dawar (@mjdawar) January 7, 2020
Report by Anas Malick & Munizae Jahangir