ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - In a historic first, Pakistan’s Supreme Court Wednesday raised questions about the legality of extending the term of the army chief, sending shock waves through a country that has been ruled by the military for more than half its 72-year existence and in which the military is considered the most powerful institution.
A day earlier, the court suspended the notification issued by the administration of Prime Minister Imran Khan, allowing current army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa to serve a second term in his position once his term expired at midnight Thursday.
The court demanded to know the law or regulation legitimizing such an action. During Wednesday’s hearing, the attorney general representing the government seemed unable to satisfy the court.
The chief justice, who was heading the three-judge bench hearing on the case, also chided the attorney general for the government’s sloppiness in processing the extension, saying huge irregularities existed in the documentation.
Khan, who has a reputation of being close to Bajwa, called an emergency meeting Wednesday evening, attended by Bajwa and several of his key ministers. The details of the meeting were not made public although local media is quoting sources saying the government has prepared comprehensive responses to the court’s inquiries.
Bajwa’s three-year term has been mired in controversy. The opposition has accused the military of meddling in the 2018 election in favor of Khan. Many in the media and rights groups complain of a clampdown on free speech and activism. The military denies such charges, but the accusations have grown in the last few years.
Several army chiefs, some of them dictators, served multiple terms. However, no one ever challenged them in court. In the last two decades, only one army chief, Raheel Sharif, stepped down at the end of his three-year term.