The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to take up the issue of Army Chief’s extension and its subsequent verdict has implications far beyond the simple legal lacunas, re, modalities of extension of the Army Chief in the constitution.
The judges dealt a blow to Imran Khan government challenging its drafting skills as if its legal team could not properly issue a simple notification as per legality of the issue in hand (i.e, extension of the Army Chief).
Why Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan, has suspended PM Imran Khan's Notification giving extension to Army Chief, Gen. Bajwa? What are its implications for the past, present & future of Pakistan?https://t.co/nibV8fUfKP
— Moeed Pirzada (@MoeedNj) November 26, 2019
The court openly reprimanded the legal team of the Prime Minister creating a perception of incompetence among the ordinary people in ignoring the lacunas in re-appointment of COAS. Interestingly, all re-appointment/extensions in the past were made conventionally by previous governments and never were the courts prompted to wade into the water and settle the issue of lacunas.
But with hindsight, it is convenient to look upon all previous extensions as legally flawed and hence rendering the incompetence of the legal eagles and bureaucrats. At times it seemed from the remarks, if the honourable judges will put an assertive restrain on the Prime Minister’s prerogative to grant extension as the judiciary has the sole monopoly to interpret the laws.
One hopes the overall impacts of the three-day-SC hearing will be managed as the institutional strength of the Army would again revive its stature
Yet in its verdict, the Supreme Court acknowledged the right of the Prime Minister and did not revisit the settled issue. In a political environment characterised by high level of power fragmentation and polarisation, the assertiveness of the judiciary in such high profile cases of Army Chief’s extension also unwittingly created an opportunity to put a spotlight on the Army institution’s domain.
For instance, the Judges came down harshly on the government for its contention on extension’s rationale: they challenged the national security definition of the government which is a judgement call of the Prime Minister based on his assessment of the facts available from his exclusive access to briefings of the security institutions.
He can make a judgement as to what are the imperatives to safeguard national security of the country based on the level of threat perception. The court could have asked for confidential briefing on the threats the country facing both at kinetic and non-kinetic realms.
The 24/7 social media was on fire on off the cuff remarks of the honourable judges when were picked by vested interests to advance their agenda: maligning the Army and its leadership— the Chief was subjected to ridicule and mud slugging; anti-establishment media cells of the political parties and social activists systematically campaigned against the Army to vent out their frustration.
The court openly reprimanded the legal team of the Prime Minister creating a perception of incompetence among the ordinary people in ignoring the lacunas in re-appointment of COAS
In an ideal world in-camera hearing would have prevented the chance of misreporting and decontextualising the remarks of honourable judges surrounding the reasons for the government’s decision to grant extension and in process would have protected the Army and its leadership from unnecessary slander by vested interests which negatively affected the morale of the soldiers and officers.
The landmark decision of Panama verdict which led to de-seating of the then Prime Minister Nawas Sharif created a perception of independence and powerfulness of the judiciary, on the one hand, and busted the myth that the judgement was influenced by the Army Establishment, contrary to the perception that it was a judicial coup, on the other.
The dramatic,unprecedented intervention by an assertive Supreme Court is a new crisis for the government that evidently mishandled the procedure to extend the tenure of Army Chief.
Whether Gen Bajwa stays or leaves, things will not be the same. #Pakistan https://t.co/9wBP5E7TAr
— Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) November 26, 2019
This time again the Supreme Court created the perception among the ordinary masses that it could come down heavy even on the Army leadership. But it had another second order consequence as well: exhibiting brazenness in its sleeves, the assertive judiciary during the debate of invoking constitution and procedures/ due process for the COAS’s extension, had a sledgehammer taken to the notional dissuading role of the army itself.
In other way, the ability of any army to create a perception among the minds of potential aggressors or violators based on its dissuasion and deterrence policies to command respect and submission seems to have been dealt a blow, which is dangerous—for example, if the Army’s perception of being a referee and arbiter of last resort is questioned and made controversial, then in a case of any public disorder, a dispute, the Army’s ability to arbitrate in impacting the risk calculus of violators, diminishes and necessitates the use of much higher kinetic options which may lead to civil war like situation.
Recent demonstrations in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon are the by-product of the perception of demonstrators that their respective establishments/security institutions are weak so it is worth taking the risk to challenge the state writ. However, one hopes the overall impacts of the three-day-SC hearing will be managed as the institutional strength of the Army would again revive its stature.
Unfortunately, we as a nation are always confronted by some crisis like situations and it’s always the Army who is by default made the arbiter and referee again. The bigger picture, i.e, IOKashmir/Indian questions, Afghanistan/US, FATF, economic revival etc, doesn’t afford to have discord between civil institutions and the military.
State functioning needs to work as per the evolved norms with no abrupt re-distribution/ re-balancing of power. The Supreme Court’s verdict was at the end a partial victory for all stakeholders.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.