The decision to grant a three-year extension to Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had not gone down well with senior generals who were poised to replace him, according to recent reports.
With 20 generals set to retire during the tenure of Bajwa’s now-cancelled three-year extension, and a senior general having been superseded for the post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCSC), the Imran Khan government has angered both senior members of the military as well as those who feared that Khan was acting under the military’s auspices.
While the original three-year extension was struck down by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on November 26, the apex court allotted a six-month conditional extension two days later—expecting the Pakistan government to move legislation that could solve the impasse.
The SC decision came on the very day that Bajwa’s tenure was to expire. And it came a day after the Pakistan Bar Council announced a nationwide strike against Bajwa’s extension by Khan.
According to a report published in the Economic Times, seven top generals including the military’s second-most senior general joined hands with Supreme Court Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in opposing Bajwa’s three-year extension.
Owing to his seniority, Lt. General Sarfraz Sattar was among the most-likely candidates to become the army chief after Bajwa. In addition, Sattar was also considered as among those who could have contended for the post of CJCSC—notionally the highest-ranking post in the Pakistan military. Bypassed on both counts, he has reason to be angry with the Khan government.
However, Nadeem Raza, who was ultimately appointed CJCSC (he had earlier been Chief of General Staff, the second-most prestigious post in the Pakistan Army after that of the army chief), was among the seven generals named in the ET article who were opposed to Bajwa’s extension.
The ET article names Sattar, Raza, as well as Lt gen. Humayun Aziz, Lt gen Naeem Ashraf, Lt Gen Sher Afghan and Lt Gen Qazi Ikraam as those who were disgruntled with Bajwa’s appointment. All of them, at some point, would have been contenders for the top job.
Significantly, the report adds that Sattar is said to have resigned after he was superseded for the post of army chief. Adding to the charges of a ‘revolt’, the report says that the generals are said to have encouraged Maulana Fazlur Rehman to carry out his ‘Azadi March’ aimed at toppling the Imran Khan government.
In addition, questions have been raised over the neutrality of the lawyer who filed the petition challenging Khan’s extension to Bajwa, Riaz Hanif Rahi. It was Rahi’s petition through the Jurist Foundation that led to Bajwa’s three-year extension being struck down. Rahi has been accused of being a serial petitioner and of having a pro-army history of litigation.
According to Dawn, Rahi was fined twice for filing frivolous petitions—including one that had called for the withdrawal of security from former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whose arrest by Musharraf led to a chain of events that toppled the former military leader from the prime minister’s post.
Rahi has also filed a petition against the appointment of Justice Qazi Faez Isa to the Supreme Court. Isa’s judgements had criticised both the military and intelligence agencies for interfering with politics and exceeding their mandates.
Incidentally, the petitioner against the COAS's extension, Riaz Hanif Rahi, has in the past been fined twice (once Rs 100,000 & then Rs 10,000) for making frivolous petitions - and in March 2018 he had filed a petition against the appointment of Qazi Faez Isa as SC judge— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) November 26, 2019
In 2013, Rahi appealed against the formation of a special court that was to try Pervez Musharraf on the charge of high treason—proving unsuccessful on that count as the trial was scheduled anyway. In July, he was among six lawyers who had been shortlisted by the Ministry of Law and Justice to defend Musharraf from the charge of high treason. The hearings in the case were adjourned for a month, however, after all six lawyers proved either unwilling to represent Musharraf or claimed they needed more time to study the case.
Rahi had tried to withdraw his petition after filing it, but this was rejected by Chief Justice Khosa, who took the matter up as a public interest litigation.
Ultimately, legal reasons prevailed in the case of Bajwa’s extension. It was lawyers who called for protests against the extension and lawyers who celebrated on the streets when the Supreme Court delivered its verdict.
The article under which Bajwa was granted an extension, Article 243, does not provide for the extension of an army chief’s term, only for his appointment. By giving the government time to enact legislation that can extend an army chief’s tenure, the apex court has simply sought a degree of legality to the proceedings.
The Pakistan government has constituted a three-member committee including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and the Minister for Planning Asad Omar, to spearhead the effort to create this legislation.