Senate speedily approves services chiefs’ tenure bills

ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Wednesday bulldozed the three bills concerning the tenure of the three services chiefs — chief of army staff, chief of air staff and chief of naval staff — and the chairman of the joint chief of staff committee, a day after the National Assembly passed these bills.

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With the two major opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — already on board, the opposition-dominated house passed the bills in no time, which will then become acts of parliament after formal assent by President Dr Arif Alvi.

The bills, which were approved by the house’s standing committee on defence yesterday, were moved for voting, one after the other, by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani then put up these bills for a voice vote after a clause by clause reading of the amendments, with a majority of members in the upper house calling out “Aye”.

The session was adjourned immediately after the passage of the bills till Friday, 10:30am.

The bills — the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill 2020 — landed in the Senate on Tuesday. While they were not part of the original agenda issued for the Senate sitting yesterday, they were brought to the upper house through a supplementary agenda. In the absence of Defence Minister Pervez Khatak, the bills were introduced by the Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati amid the opposition’s uproar.

The Senate session lasted only 20 minutes and no other agenda other than the laying of a few reports was taken up.

Subsequently, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani forwarded the three bills to the Senate standing committee for approval, which held an emergency meeting within minutes after adjournment of the Senate sitting and passed them unanimously.

Expected amendments

As per the amendments approved by the NA committee, the appointment of the services chiefs and chairman, joint chiefs of the staff committee would be the prerogative of the prime minister and his decision to appoint, reappoint or extend the tenures of the chiefs and the chairman cannot be challenged in any court of law. The upper age limit for a four-star appointment has been fixed at 64 years in case of reappointment and extension, otherwise the officer will retire at the age of 60 years.

Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem briefed members of the NA committee on various aspects of the three bills. PPP intended to introduce some amendments to the bills but the law minister asserted that the proposed changes would require a constitutional amendment. PPP did not later press for the amendments and the bills were approved with consensus.

The extension conundrum

Prime Minister Imran had previously extended Gen Bajwa’s tenure through a notification in August 2019, but the top court suspended it on Nov 26, 2019, due to irregularities in the manner of extension.

After three days of heightened uncertainty, the apex court, through a short order on Nov 28, 2019, had announced that Gen Bajwa would remain the COAS for another six months during which the parliament would legislate on the army chief’s extension/reappointment.

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