THE last month, November, was a tumultuous month which saw country in eye of the storm because of four major developments, capable of causing confusion, controversy and uncertainty in the country. These included March/Sit-in of Maulana Fazalur Rehman at Islamabad, howling for scalp of PM, being illegitimate, exit of Nawaz Sharif abroad from prison, regular hearing of foreign funding case against PTI on demand of whole opposition which predicted its political obituary under Election Commission's rules and hearing of case of extension in tenure of COAS by Supreme Court coupled with its unprofessional and sloppy handling by government. This caused anxious moments and kept nation glued to TV screens, amid fears of a serious political crisis in the country however, there was an instant sigh of relief when decision was announced by Supreme Court while exercising judicial restraint. The matter has been left to Parliament and Federal Government to clearly specify the terms and conditions of service of the COAS through an Act of Parliament and to clarify the scope of Article 243 of the Constitution in this regard.
The government also felt relieved and appeared confident of completing legislation within stipulated time with ease regardless of gaffed performance of its legal team which made it a laughing stock. To them, task at hand is of legislation requiring simple majority in Parliament however, necessity of amendment in Constitution may also be there. In this eventuality, cooperation of opposition may become inescapable because of inadequate numbers with government and we have the opposition which believes on quid pro quo. The collective good is chemically foreign to them. They feel no scruple in pursuing what is necessary to serve their cause. Now they may have even something uglier because obtaining situation involves question of their political survival. They are running from pillar to post for its provision. They have clutched on everything which have come on their way to find refuge and escape from approaching arm of accountability. Similarly they would not leave this opportunity untried to bargain in the garb of democratic norms for unanimously passed legislation. They have already charged Imran Khan and his lackeys for spoiling atmosphere for the proposition by their uncongenial utterances. Latest edition to the charge is statement of Imran Khan after the verdict of Supreme Court that this must be a great disappointment to external enemies and mafias within as they were expecting a clash of institutions. Bilawal says that instead of employing pacific means for consensus building, Imran Khan is pressurizing opposition for the needful. Contrarily, it is the opposition which is cranking up the pressure to milk the opportunity whereas, he talks tough only about them on accountability plane about which they are guilty of in eyes of all and sundry. One example is assertions of Maulana Fazalur Rehman who is now considered point man of all opposition parties. He has said that this Parliament has to do an important legislation and it is not entitled to, being illegitimate hence, immediate fresh elections are imperative for new Parliament to do the legislation.
Seeing their past record and hints being dropped by them, one could see a lot of dust on horizon, kicked by them to grind their own axe. This would impinge on respect and prestige of institution concerned which at present, is centre of gravity for the country and is held in high esteem by people. In order to avert such untoward possibility, government has to build the case among the people imaginatively and thoughtfully to make the opposition see reason. It is not difficult because stuff available is in abundance.
According to Article 243 of 1973 Constitution, The President shall, on advice of Prime Minister appoint services chief. This is only given. There is no mention of reappointment, limiting of retirement and extension of tenure. The architects of 1973 Constitution were eminent constitutional practitioners, Mehmood Ali Kasuri and Abdul Hafeez Pirzada who had very few equals. They kept said clause unfettered. In words of Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, probable reason could only be that this is too important hence, was kept unconfined. Zia's 8th Amendment, Nowaz's13th amendment, Musarraf's17th amendment and 18th consensus amendment by all parties (now in opposition) also missed the deficiency. The 18th Amendment was a wholesale amendment which nearly transformed 1973 Constitution but still did not fiddle with said clause. Either they were not interested or it was understood while relying on conventional wisdom that a man who could appoint, could also alter its scope depending upon exigencies of the situation.
Pakistan has "written Constitution" however, conventions are relied upon wherever, a vacuum exists. In instant case, similar situation existed. General Bajwa was given extension in tenure in August 2019 and was greeted with popular approval and acclaim. The opposition also showed its agreement. Now any controversy or something to the contrary by opposition would be incomprehensible. Following decision of Supreme Court on continuation of General Bajwa as COAS, national sentiments were no less different from before rather this time, these were more intense and feverish. The stock market reacted very positively. There is no disagreement on substance. The amendments sought relates to procedure and clarity. If opposition drags its feet on their formulation then it may be liable to contempt of court as hinted by Farogh Naseem. The government must strive to take opposition on board with sincerity of purpose but needs to keep its all options open.
-- The writer, a retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad