November 29, 2019, should have been the last day for General Qamar Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan in office, when he should have retired into a humble and peaceful life in civil society, like his predecessor General Raheel Sharif (the only Pakistani Army Chief to have retired on time). That is a tradition that all military personnel follow across the globe.
However, Pakistan is different. Before a Chief of Army Staff retires, two lobbies in generally come up comprising democrats and despots, for and against the Chief. Interestingly, before any opposition comes up, either the party or the person is divested of taking a decision, or the case is settled in favor of the Pakistani Army. This move was again observed in Pakistan politics when it was time for General Bajwa to retire. There was a petition filed by a lawyer against the grant of extension to the Chief that led to hectic internal politico-military joint efforts by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. The parliament and Pakistan President issued notifications in favor of the extension/reappointment; the Supreme Court of Pakistan refused to extend the tenure of General Bajwa, the present COAS of Pakistani Army, on November 28, 2019. For the first time in history of Pakistan, an Army Chief was denied and given a ‘NO’ by any court.
Incidentally, the notification of extension for three years that was requested by Imran government to the Apex court was followed by the issuance of another notification of reappointment by the President in August 2019 were both contradictory to each other. Actions in Pakistan politics were fast. Instead of recourse to constitutional measures, the Pakistan PM called for an emergency meeting with General Bajwa and other important ministers on November 27, 2019. The Law Minister of Pakistan resigned and attended Supreme Court to represent General Bajwa. Following new developments took place:
- General Nadeem Raza took over the charge of Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, a front runner for the post of COAS, Pakistan army that stands approved by the Prime Minister.
- The amendment of Army Act for reappointment of Army Chief and extension of tenure was high on agenda.
- Farogh Naseem, Former Law minister (now lawyer of General Bajwa), and Anwar Mansoor Khan, Pakistan’s Attorney General, and legal expert Babar Awan were special invitees to the emergency meeting, where all important ministers including Foreign, Education, Defence, Planning and Human Rights were attending.
- Agenda was to discuss political, economic and security situation. General Bajwa was consulted on the issue of cancellation of notification by the apex court.
- By the end of the day, on November 27, the Supreme Court decided to postpone the decision.
- The Supreme Court decided to extend chief’s tenure by six months and asked the parliament to legislate on extension/reappointment of an army chief.
General Bajwa came heavily against some senior military officers and through Field General Court-martial under Pakistan Army Act. Lt General Javed Iqbal was awarded 14 years of rigorous imprisonment. Brigadier Raja Rizwan and Doctor Wasim Akram were hanged for leaking out security-related information and espionage on November 24, 2019. This was an unprecedented event in the history of the Pakistani Army.
Meanwhile, some more changes in Pakistan’s political center stage were made. General Nadeem Raza, who has taken over the charge of Chairman, has earlier been Chief of General Staff and had worked closely with General Bajwa. He is a high contender for the post of new COAS, Pakistan Army. He had also commanded Rawal Pindi based Corps and is an infantry officer from Sindh Regiment.
There is also a move to amend Pakistan Army Rule 255 that is silent regarding extension of service. There is no provision of extension of service or reappointment of chief after his retirement in Army Rules and Regulations Section 255. PM had signed an extension order and ratified by the President makes the case interesting. Pakistan Prime Minister has applied Article 243 of the Pakistani Constitution, where he has the prerogative to give an extension to the Army Chief depending on the political and security situation in the country. Since the Army rule does not permit extension, the same has been amended by incorporating the phrase “extension in tenure”.
Notably, since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, the roots of democracy have been weak and not permitted to mature by the Military. Every time there was a time to select the highest appointment or change of government, attempts to establish democracy have been thwarted by the Military. Martial law in 1958 by General Ayyub Khan; hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 after a military coup in 1977 by General Zia-ul-Haq; death of General Zia in a mysterious plane crash in 1988; General Musharraf taking over Pakistan in a coup; and the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sentenced for life – the story of usurping political power by mighty Military has become a norm. Takhta-palat actions in Pakistan has been a recurring event at an interval of 15-20 years, indicating a trend line of a major event now. Time is also ripe when present Chief is retiring, and next in line (General Nadeem) has been elevated to CISC and with possibly negotiated terms to accept the extension of tenure of General Bajwa as he has been closely associated with the Chief. Who will be the scapegoat? Who will be in the driving seat, and who will be hanged is a wait and watch scene? Likely hood of General Bajwa continuing beyond extension is high on the cards. Unless, of course, Gen Nadeem and his colleagues do not usurp the power. Whether these instances are a coincidence or designed will be known in the future. Let us all pray for a stable democracy in Pakistan for the sake of humanity. An earnest hope of Pak democracy scoring over Pak Dandacracy!
*** The author is Brigadier in Indian Army and is serving as Group Commander, Group HQ NCC, Gorakhpur (UP) ***