Pakistan’s top court will rule on Thursday whether to grant an extension to the country’s army chief, in a rare case that pits the judiciary against the government and the military.
The cabinet of prime minister Imran Khan approved a three-year extension for General Qamar Javed Bajwa in August, citing a worsening national security situation in the region over its rivalry with India.
But in a surprise ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court suspended the extension, citing a series of irregularities and ordering the government and the army to produce legal provisions and detailed arguments on the reasoning behind the move.
On Thursday the court reserved judgment, to be passed later in the day. It said a ruling would be pronounced after the government agrees to pass a law to lay down terms and conditions of the new appointment.
Bajwa’s term is due to expire at midnight on Thursday.
“You will pass a law from parliament in six months,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told the court, adding that the court would reach a verdict later in the day.
Irrespective of the decision, the episode could weaken the authority of the government, led by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The civilian government has enjoyed good relations with the armed forces, in contrast to the previous government of Khan’s main rival Nawaz Sharif.
It has also led to questions about the future of Bajwa, who has led the military through a period of escalating tensions with India and western neighbour Afghanistan.
The abrupt decision of the court to suspend Bajwa’s extension, and the government’s reaction, has been branded “a comedy of errors” by Pakistan’s media, which is rarely critical of the military.
“This is without a doubt the most shambolic episode in the PTI government’s tenure so far,” said an editorial in Dawn, the country’s leading English-language newspaper on Thursday.
“Surely there are other officers more than capable of leading the army. General Bajwa’s next step will determine whether he is thinking of himself or his institution.”
During Bajwa’s tenure, the military has been accused by opposition politicians of electoral manipulation, meddling in politics, suspension of civil liberties and muzzling the media to help Khan win power last year. The military has always denied interfering in politics.
The army chief usually serves a three-year term. Since the role was established in 1972, only one general has had his term extended by a civilian government.
Pakistan’s powerful military has ruled the country for more than half of its 72-year history, and sets defence and security policy.