ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament yesterday approved extending the term of the army chief for another three years despite the objections of some parties, which accuse the military of heavy-handed tactics in its anti-militant operations along the Afghan border. Pakistan has been ruled by the powerful military for about half its history and tension between civilian governments and the top generals often dominates politics. Any effort by a military chief to consolidate power is viewed with suspicion.
But critics of Prime Minister Imran Khan say his government enjoys the support of the military which is why the government approved the extension for Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in August. The government cited a worsening national security situation with old rival India as justification for the extension for Bajwa at the end of the usual three-year term.
But in a surprise ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the extension in November, ordering the government and army to produce legal provisions and arguments for the reappointment, pitting the judiciary against the government and powerful military.
The government responded by drafting legislation which the lower house of parliament approved yesterday, clearing the way for the extension. It must still be approved by the upper house, which is expected. “All parties shunned their differences and stood united in the best national interest,” Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters outside the parliament.
The two main opposition parties have a long history of clashing with the military but nevertheless backed the legislation, largely, analysts say, to avoid a damaging confrontation. Two smaller parties and some members of parliament from troubled northwestern districts along Afghan border opposed it. They accuse the military of committing rights abuses during its anti-militant operations. The army rejects such accusations.
“This parliament’s majority is fake, this prime minister is fake,” said Asad Mahmood, parliamentary leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) religious political party, which says it unfairly lost seats in the northwest to Khan’s party. “We will not support any such amendment in the law by a fake parliament.”
The military sets defense and security policy and also dominates foreign affairs. Recently, it has also had a role in framing economic policies. Opposition activists and rights groups have also accused the military under Bajwa of meddling in politics, limiting civil liberties and muzzling the media. The military denies interfering in politics or curbing freedoms. – Reuters