Tenure extension of Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa hangs in balance as the Supreme Court suspends the orders until the court hearing is completed on petition against the extension. Image Credit: Reuters/file

Dubai: In a rare case, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has suspended notification issued by Prime Minister Imran Khan to give three-year extension to Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The decision taken by Pakistan Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa stunned the government and surprised the nation as it was the least expected. Analysts says that it is a major development as the Supreme Court has started showing its supremacy even in cases involving all powerful top army chief.

Chief Justice suspended notification of Gen Bajwa’s tenure extension until the court’s hearing resumes on Wednesday and a decision is taken by the court. The court objected that process followed to give extension is not correct. Chief Justice also questioned the government what the need was to give three-year extension to army chief.

Court issues notices

The court issued notices to Ministry of Defence, the Federal Government and Gen Bajwa. Bajwa is due to retire on November 29 but Prime Minister Imran Khan gave him three-year extension in August this year ostensibly due to regional security issues and particularly the recent development on Kashmir dispute.

“General Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointed Chief of Army Staff for another term of three years from the date of completion of current tenure,” the brief notification issued by the prime minister’s office had said.

What happened in the court

The Pakistan Chief Justice Khosa on Tuesday took up a withdrawal application of a petition filed by The Jurists Foundation challenging the extension in Gen Bajwa’s tenure. The top judge, however, rejected the application to withdraw the petition and took it up in public interest under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution. The case was converted into a suo moto notice, Dawn news reported.

“If the notification was issued on August 19, then what did the prime minister approve on August 21?” Justice Khosa inquired.

Cabinet’s approval was required,” Attorney General (AG) Anwar Mansoor Khan responded. “The prime minister signed [the notification] after the cabinet’s approval.”

“After the cabinet gave its approval, did the president approve it again?” the chief justice asked, to which the attorney general responded in the negative.

“Only the President of Pakistan can extend the tenure of the army chief,” said CJP Khosa. “We can take approval from the president again,” the attorney general said.

Majority of cabinet members did not approve extension

Justice Khosa then noted that out of 25 cabinet members, only 11 had approved the extension.

“Fourteen members of the cabinet did not give any opinion due to non-availability,” Justice Khosa said. “Did the government take their silence as agreement?”

“Those who did not say ‘yes’ had not taken part in the voting,” the AG informed the court.

“Does the cabinet not want to give members the time to think? The 14 members of the cabinet still have not said ‘yes’ to army chief’s extension,” the top judge noted.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, who was part of the three-judge bench hearing the case, questioned if the cabinet had given the decision to grant an extension to the army chief enough thought, noting: “No reasons for extensions were debated in the cabinet.”

In a verbal order following the hearing, the court said that the prime minister had issued a notification of Gen Bajwa’s “appointment in his own capacity on August 19”.

Why the extension was awarded

“The court was told that the extension is being granted in light of the regional security situation. Dealing with regional security situation is the job of the army as an institution, not just that of an officer’s.

“If the regional security situation reasoning is accepted, then every army officer would want a re-appointment.”

“The attorney general could not present any legal reason for an extension in tenure or a new appointment,” the court observed.

The top judge also wondered why the notification referred to the extension as a re-appointment.

“The entire process was upside down. First the cabinet should have given the approval, then the prime minister and president should have been advised,” he said.

The court then suspended the notification of the army chief’s extension and adjourned the hearing till Wednesday.