The amendments in the constitution regarding an extension in the tenure of the chief of army staff had a smooth sailing in the National Assembly. Never has the House witnessed such unity on an issue of national security, other than maintaining the sanctity of the armed forces.
The bill will now move to Senate for approval where it won’t face any hurdles and will become the law by the end of the week after being signed by the president. There was a slight controversy over the government’s haste to pass the bills notably from the two main opposition parties- PPP and PML-N.
The PPP initially expressed reservations over the bill to amend the Army Act saying that it was beyond the directives of the Supreme Court. The party had decided to consult other opposition parties to propose certain changes in the amendment bill. On the day of voting, the PPP withdrew those recommendations and Bilawal did not even attend the session.
The PML-N received instructions from supremo Nawaz Sharif that parliamentary procedures should be followed. This caused a delay as a senate standing committee had to pass the bill twice. The process was eventually expedited and the absentee leadership did not put up any resistance. The JUI-F, tribal areas and PTM affiliated lawmakers were the only ones voting against the bill.
These bills have cleared the uncertainty over the future of the army chief. There was a possibility that politicians might not pass the legislation within the stipulated six-month time frame, leaving the army in a rather awkward situation. General Bajwa is now on course to remain the army chief till 2022, while the retirement age of services chiefs has been raised to 64 years. No one will be allowed to challenge the extension in a court of law for any reason whatsoever.
The question remains why the bill was passed in such haste. The deadline given by the apex court was not looming but still parliamentarians acted swiftly to pass the bill. Opposition parties will have to be held answerable on providing unconditional support to the government over the bill. This negates their vision and slogans that the government was selected and their mandate should be respected.
The move has given credence to rumours that the support handed out by the opposition is part of a deal to gain leverage over the corruption cases faced by several opposition leaders. The PTI appears to have gained the most as it doesn’t face any stiff resistance and is well on course to complete its tenure.