ISLAMABAD - The three bills aimed at regularising tenure of three services chiefs and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee would be put to vote today in the National Assembly, after a parliamentary panel on Monday unanimously approved the proposed amendments in laws.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence, which met at the Parliament House, unanimously approved the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2020; the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill, 2020; and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak confirmed after conclusion of the meeting.

The three bills including one pertaining to amendment in Army Act, which will pave way for three-year extension in tenure of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is expected to have a smooth sail as the major opposition parties have already announced their support.

It is likely that government would table these three bills in the Senate on Tuesday and then these would be sent to the Senate Standing Committee on Defence for another scrutiny.

Official sources said that Senate will most likely also pass the bills and all would become acts of parliament once signed by President Dr Arif Alvi, put an end to the uncertainty about COAS service extension that was created after a Supreme Court’s November verdict.

“The bills have been passed unanimously (by the committee) and I congratulate the entire nation, opposition and the government as all have shown unity,” Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak told reporters. The bills would be put to vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday (today), he added.

About the amendments proposed by the opposition in the draft bills, the defence minister said that these amendments were discussed but amicably rejected. He advised to avoid rumour mongering and said that no opposition party had backtracked from its earlier commitment to support the proposed bill. He said the government and the opposition were on the same page pertaining to legislation. “This is our country and the entire country and all political parties stand by army,” he said.

The government on Monday had to bring these three proposed laws again in the NA defence committee only three days after it initially had rushed to approve all from it. A hurriedly called meeting of the committee held on Saturday and attended by members of the Senate defence committee had approved the bills — a government move that was rejected by opposition parties including PPP and PML-N.

The PML-N said that it would support the bills only if these were passed following the parliamentary rules in the lights of directions and time-frame given by the party supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a letter dispatched for the party leadership from London. “We should also be cognizant of the fact that the parliament should not be seen to rubber-stamp a bill of such importance,” Nawaz had said in the letter, adding, that “political fallout for all parties will be substantial, if parliamentary norms are not properly observed.”

In the NA defence committee meeting held yesterday, PPP proposed amendments to the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2020. “Provided that the prime minister shall before he extends the tenure of the chief of army staff appear before the Parliamentary Committee on National Security to record the reasons for such extension,” said an important amendment proposed by PPP.

Law Minister Farogh Naseem, who attended the meeting, talking to reporters, said “opposition wanted a role for parliamentary committee to extend tenure of services chiefs.”

“I convinced them that their proposal requires a constitutional amendment,” the law minister said, adding, that a constitutional amendment could only create a role for a parliamentary committee. Even the Supreme Court has not asked us to amend the Constitution,” he said. He further said that the opposition accepted his argument with a ‘big heart’.

The government had introduced the three bills in the National Assembly on Friday last in the light of the Supreme Court verdict directing it to remove ambiguity in laws and provide legal grounds to the extension given to COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Earlier, the apex court had suspended notifications granting extension to General Bajwa.

The proposed amendments say that the president, on the advice of the prime minister, can specify tenure and terms and conditions of services of all three chiefs of staff — the army, the air and the naval — and the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee. The amendments include the grant of extension and re-appointments of the services chiefs. The amendments also fix the age of the services chiefs at 64 years.

The amendments ensure that such appointments, re-appointments and extensions won’t be challenged before any court of law.