A verdict about stability and continuity


Faisal Zahid Malik
The landmark judgement of the Supreme Court in the extension of service case of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa would long be remembered in the annals of history as a verdict for stability and continuity as it effectively disappointed all those who wanted to sow seeds of discord among national institutions or see yet another vicious cycle of confusion and uncertainty in the country. The three member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, pronounced short but historic order granting six month extension in service to the incumbent Army Chief, asking the Government to complete the required legislative process within this timeframe.
It was an extraordinary situation and to the good luck of the nation and the country, the apex court demonstrated the required sense of maturity in handling the issue in a wise and visionary manner. The issue was so sensitive and ticklish that apprehensions were being expressed by some circles that any mishandling could cause harm to the fragile democratic process. The judgement would also be a source of satisfaction for the Government as it wanted to extend tenure of General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the objective has not only been realized but it now has sanction of the highest judicial office of the land.
The legal and constitutional crisis and its reso lution by the Supreme Court is yet another testimony that we have the capacity and capability to address all our challenges and problems provided state institutions work strictly within the framework of the Constitution and the law. Rightly or wrongly, there were apprehensions of clash among state institutions but that dangerous possibility has been averted as the judiciary did not usurp what legitimately belonged to the executive or the legislative branches of the state. The Supreme Court pointed out serious flaws in the summary prepared and approved by the Government on the basis of which the President extended tenure of the Army Chief. However, the court opted not to go for the extreme step and instead only suspended the order giving the Government time to revisit its decision and the processes involved. For the second time, the authorities concerned erred but then again the apex court did not exercise its authority and powers and rather pointed out drawbacks, also hinting at how to address them. This amply shows the Supreme Court wanted the executive to resolve the issue while remaining within the framework of the law and the Constitution.
There were also anticipations that the Supreme Court would take a yes or no position on the issue of extension especially in the backdrop of observations made by members of the bench hearing the case but instead of going for judicial solution of the issue, the court went for a visionary approach of allowing the parliament to exercise its sovereign powers to address the question of appointment and extension in service of the Army Chief. Therefore, the verdict is also about supremacy of the parliament and upholding of rules of law and the Constitution. By referring the matter to the parliament, where it legitimately belonged to, the judiciary has sent a loud and clear message that it has no lust for undue powers and instead has every respect for the legislature. The Chief Justice, from the very outset, declared that the case in question was not about an individual but mere consideration of legal and constitutional aspects of the issue. He assured that the judiciary has no enmity with anyone and would decide the case according to the law and the constitution and he lived up to his commitment. On his part, the Chief of the Army Staff also did not take it as a matter of prestige or ego and even personally went to the high level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan with his legal team and assisted them in sorting out the issue. The fact that he did not react and went into a cooperative mode also speaks volumes about his commitment to the system and the democratic and judicial processes. All this augurs well for harmonious working of all institutions of the state and that is how the country can march forward on the road to peace, progress and prosperity.
Legal and Constitutional aspects of the issue notwithstanding, the fact remains that extension of the incumbent COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa was well thought out and well-deserved decision aimed at continuity of security and defence policies in view of the regional security environment. The country witnessed great achievements during tenure of General Bajwa as Pakistan Army secured a unique victory against the unconventional war against terrorism. This is not a small achievement if seen in the overall context of what other countries including the United States achieved despite having much wider resources and technologies at their disposal. However, continuity of command and policies was necessary to stabilize the gains made during the last three years or so. Similarly, Pakistan has corrected the course in many respects as far as handling of different security and defence related issues and challenges are concerned and this policy is widely being hailed not only domestically but also worldwide. This policy needs to be taken to fruition and this is possible under the dynamic leadership of General Bajwa. The Government has also embarked upon an ambitious programme of economic and fiscal reforms but their success is directly linked to the security situation and stability. Pakistan Army, under the leadership of General Bajwa, has been striving to provide congenial security environment to the government to concentrate on implementation of its agenda.
One must point out here that credit also goes to the opposition parties for not making any attempt to take political mileage out of the crisis triggered by the move to grant extension in service to the COAS and writ petition against the decision in the Supreme Court. There was an opportunity both for PML(N) and PPP, which are facing wrath of different sorts these days, to settle scores but they wisely opted to remain silent.
However, the very fact that the ball is now in the court of the parliament emphasizes the need on the part of parliamentarians to demonstrate the highest sense of responsibility and maturity as well. To me, the judgement of the Supreme Court could be a blessing in disguise for the prevailing system, which is currently marred by an atmosphere of acrimony and vendetta.
The parliament can handle and resolve the matter within six months only if there is working relationship between the treasury and opposition benches. So far, the parliament has not been able to discharge its fundamental responsibility of law-making in an effective and elaborate manner and the Government has mostly been relying on issuance and re-issuance of ordinances because of unending tension with the opposition. The situation would not change unless the Government decides in the larger interest of the system to make a U-turn as far as its attitude towards and relations with the opposition are concerned. The task of legislation that the Supreme Court has assigned to the parliament can be undertaken only when there is either harmony or at least working relationship on the both sides of aisles because not to speak of amending any provision of the Constitution, the Government lacks the numbers even to make an ordinary piece of legislation an act of parliament. It is for the Government to take an initiative to break the deadlock and move towards reduction of political tension in the country.
Another point that the case in point highlighted is the way the bureaucracy works in the country. The judges were aghast over uncalled for errors and drawbacks in the summaries prepared for extension in service of the COAS. This is mainly because there is no culture of reading files minutely and generally portions from old summaries on similar subjects are cut and pasted. This reminds me of an episode narrated by then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who lamented that he was given a brief for his Saudi visit that was outdated and contained none of the points that he intended to cover during his interaction with the Saudi leadership. According to him, the Ministry concerned just took a print out of the old summary and did not bother even to update it. Besides taking measures to streamline working of the governmental machinery, an exercise should also be undertaken to re-visit all the existing laws with a view to removing their drawbacks and shortcomings. This is the job of the parliament and should be done on war footings so that there is no embarrassment in the event of another crisis of the sort.
The crisis is over for now, thanks to the far-sightedness of the judges, but it depends on wisdom of the legislators and the political parties whether the matter is sorted out on the platform of the parliament in six months or someone would again be knocking at the doors of the Supreme Court after expiry of the deadline. This is a litmus test for supremacy and efficacy of the parliament.