ISLAMABAD               -              Defence Minister Pervez Khattak on Friday presented ‘The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020’, ‘The Pakistan Navy (Amendment Act)’ and ‘The Pakistan Air Force (Amendment Act)’ in the National Assembly. The three legislations seek to empower the prime minister to extend tenure of chairman joint chiefs of staff committee and three services chiefs for three years.

In one of the shortest sessions of the National Assembly, Pervez Khattak introduced amendments in three acts separately which were later immediately passed from concerned standing committee only with the gap of around three hours.

Both the houses of the parliament [National Assembly and Senate] are set to pass all the three legislations on Monday.

Earlier, Khattak on a single-point agenda introduced amendments in the acts in National Assembly which ensure the future extension in the tenure of an army chief will not be challenged in any court of law.

The statement of objects and reasons of ‘The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020’ , says “This Bill seeks to amend the provisions of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, so as to empower the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, to specify the tenure and the 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 to, and reappointment of the Chief of the Army Staff or the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee”.

According to the clause about ‘Appointment of the chief of the army staff and the chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee’, “The President shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint a General as the Chief of the Army Staff for a tenure of three (03) years. The terms and conditions of the Chief of the Army Staff shall be determined by the President, on the advice of the Prime Minister,” it says.

The clause related to ‘the reappointment or extension of Chief of the Army Staff’, says “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or any other law for the time being in force, the President, on the advice of the Prime Minister, may reappoint the Chief of the Army Staff for additional tenure of three (03) years, or extend the tenure(s) of the Chief of the Army Staff up to three(03) years, on such terms and conditions, anything contained in this Act or any other law, or judgment of any Court, the appointment, reappointment or extension of the Chief of the Army Staff, shall not be called into question before any Court on any ground whatsoever”.

According to the bill, Section 8-A, B, C, D, E, F will be inserted in the Army Act where Section 8-C about retirement age and service limits of the army chief says ‘the retirement age and service limits prescribed for a General, under the Rules and Regulations made under this 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 (64) years”.

Khattak also presented the Pakistan Navy (Amendment Act) and the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment Act), separately.

According to introduced amendments in acts, “The laws will fix 64 years as the maximum age limit of the three services chiefs — chief of army staff, chief of air staff and chief of naval staff — and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, with the prime minister having the prerogative to give an extension to any of them in future after completion of their normal tenure at the age of 60 years and the president having the power to give approval”.

The prominent lawmakers including Prime Minister Imran Khan, leader of opposition Shehbaz Sharif, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and some others did not attend the proceedings of the House.

PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khwaja Asif, on a point of order, requested the chair to ensure production orders of arrested MNAs. “Since this session will continue till next week, the production orders of detained lawmakers ought to be issued,” he said. Khwaja Saad Rafique, Ahsan Iqbal, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khursheed Ahmed Shah are currently under the custody of law enforcement agencies on different charges.

The treasury and the opposition other day [Thursday] unanimously reached consensus over the proposed amendments to the Army Act. The federal cabinet had also unanimously approved proposed amendments in the acts.

Meanwhile, Senate and National Assembly’s standing committees on defence in a joint meeting on Friday unanimously approved the three bills relating to amendments to Army Act, Navy Act and Air Force Act.

There was no amendment proposed by either of the opposition parties during the meeting chaired by Captain (retd) Jameel and Senator Waleed Iqbal at the Parliament House.

Law Minister Farogh Naseem said that all parties and stakeholders were on the same page regarding the passage of the bills.

Talking to media outside Parliament House, Special Assistant to PM Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan congratulated the opposition parties and their members for fulfilling the “important responsibility,” adding their patience was also worthy of recognition.

“This is an important step towards civilian supremacy and it has proven that if leadership has vision they can turn every challenge into an opportunity,” she said.

She said the Parliament had started the democratic process to take the premier’s “democratic authority” forward. “Today a democratic process has been initiated,” she said, expressing the hope that the amendments would also be accepted through the democratic process.

Earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan had attended a meeting of the PTI parliamentary committee. Firdous said the premier had emphasised that the representative of the people is answerable to them (the people).

On Friday, news of a letter penned by PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif detailing the party’s stance on the matter made the rounds. Speaking to reporters, PML-N’s Khawaja Asif had denied receiving a letter from his party leadership on the matter.

“You might have received a letter, I did not receive any letter,” he said responding to a reporter’s question.

Speaking to media persons, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said his party will support the legislation if it is done through the parliamentary rules and regulations. He said the bills will first be sent to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence and the matter will be discussed in the House, adding PML-N had not taken the opposition into confidence before offering the government their unconditional support on the legislation.

“I think this should have not happened in this way. It is the responsibility of the leader of the opposition to unite the opposition and maintain consensus among ranks.”

Bilawal said it was a “small victory” for his party that the government was not bulldozing the bill through the House and was instead following parliamentary rules and regulations in this regard.

“If important bills are passed without following the parliament’s procedure it will set a bad precedent for the future,” he said.

“I am still a little bit confused on what the actual stance of the government is as the government has also challenged the Supreme Court’s order through its review petition which on its face looks like a contradiction to me,” Bilawal said, adding he hoped this contradiction will be removed after passage of this bill.