Gen. Bajwa’s extension and lessons for Pakistani stakeholders

Imtiaz Gul

With the anti-climax in the case of Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s extension, Pakistan has taken another big step in its democratic evolution. The Supreme Court carried the day in the end – so it seems but Pakistan itself emerged as the bigger victor in the entire episode.

Yet, this short-lived storm that seemed to sweep both the PM and the Army Chief, receded peacefully, albeit with a few intriguing questions.

Was it only sheer incompetence of the civilian government that entailed huge embarrassment for the prime minister and the army Chief General Bajwa?

Or was it a sting operation to give both Imran Khan and Bajwa a bloody nose, using procedural flaws, through the apex court?

or was the spurious petition challenging General Bajwa’s extension meant to achieve more or less the same results, albeit without anticipation of what how the honourable judges might eventually react to it? Was the move aimed getting judicial authentication for the extension of General Bajwa and thus foreclose possible challenges including those revolving around his faith?

Regardless of who motivated this and why, the case has yielded several lessons for all stakeholders.

The judgement marks another big stride towards establishing the supremacy of civilian institutions – at least on the face of it.

Secondly, the apex court has once again thrown the ball in the court of the government and the parliament, acceding thereby the prerogative of appointments and legislation to the elected government and parliamentarians (fairly conceding all rights of Article 243 authority to the PM).

Thirdly, the judgement will now help remove the ambiguity around issues involving extension and reappointment of the COAS and lead to clearly defined procedures for decisions to the position of COAS.

Fourth, the episode is not less than a 240-volt shock to PM Khan, who must have realised how he is surrounded by an army of incompetent officials who – yet again – caused a massive pitfall for him because of their ineptitude and casual conduct. A wake-up call indeed to shed self-serving, conventional bureaucrats and time-serving aides.

After nearly 16 months into power, the PM has to learn that he holds the key to fixing many of the chronic issues of Pakistan – from economy to criminal justice system to autonomy of institutions and accountability.  For this, he needs to quietly engage with the apex judiciary and other stakeholders, instead of publicly shaming them.

Quiet engagement will suit his reformist agenda more than the endless rant that he often indulges in. Naming and shaming are good but their utility is limited too.

Fifth, the apex court ruling has also exposed the limitations that the mighty security establishment meanwhile faces in a country with a hyper-active judiciary, an aligned opposition (as far as opposition to PTI and army is concerned) and omni-present , partially politically aligned media.

Lastly, the judiciary in 2019, in the words of Chief Justice Tariq Khosa, is certainly different from what it was in 2009. And it proved so by delivering a great judgement on November 28. 

Yet, under Justice Khosa, the Supreme Court has not questioned the arbitrary way in which medicine prices rose three-fold a few months ago. It hardly questions the lawyers, who meanwhile act as another self-serving cartel.  The Supreme Court cannot absolve itself of the responsibility of providing urgently needed guidance on the reform of the criminal procedures code (CrPC), at least on the most frequently abused clauses of the CrPC.  More importantly, the august Court has failed to question the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)  for many of its actions against politicians and bureaucracy. The entire nation will remain indebted if Justice Khosa and his successors can take some big steps to reform CrPC – and thus extricate the country from the clutches of the century old system responsible for the heavy pendency in lower courts.

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