On Tuesday, January 7, 2020, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved a bill granting legal cover to a three-year extension in service to current Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, ending what some have referred to as “stand-off between the nation’s strong military and the judiciary.” The bill will become a law once it is approved by the Senate, the upper house. What was predictable was how the two main opposition parties, both Pakistan People’s Party, co-headed by former president Asif Ali Zardari, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, supported this move by Imran Khan’s led government.
Two days earlier, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had expressed deep concern “at Parliament’s attempt to hastily introduce legislation that will affect the organisation of the military through the recently tabled Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020, the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Act and the Pakistan Airforce (Amendment) Act. In the interest of preserving the sanctity of democratic rule, decisions concerning the rules and regulations that govern the tenure and appointment of military chiefs must not be made rashly. The undue haste in which this has occurred has worrying implications for the way in which democratic decisions are made in the future. Building institutions that outlast individuals is paramount to strengthening Pakistan’s ability to protect citizens’ fundamental rights. The recently tabled laws are a matter of public interest and the people’s elected representatives have a duty to legislate with responsibility and not on an ad hoc basis. This is critical to the spirit of the Constitution.”
However, even the Senate Standing committee on Defense approved the legislations and the bills will be approved by the Senate tomorrow.
The only parliamentarians who opposed the bills were those from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-i-Islami and representatives from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). In a tweet, a North Waziristan MNA Mohsin Dawar said prior to walking out of the National Assembly, they had voted against the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020. “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.”