Out of the crisis
Mercifully, we are out of the crisis — at least for now. The Supreme Court has allowed Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa — whose term as army chief stood expired on November 28 — to continue in his position for a period of six months during which parliament will have to legislate on the issue of extension in the tenure of an army chief. That way, the legality of Gen Bajwa’s reappointment or continuation of service now rests on the law that the government would bring. It must have been a revelation for many — even lawmakers and law experts — that the Constitution does not carry a single provision to support an extension in the tenure of the country’s top soldier. And the only law that is referred to in the context all too frequently — i.e. Article 243 of the Constitution — only deals with the appointment of an army chief and does not say anything on a re-appointment or an extension.
Better late than never: the Supreme Court made sure that this must not continue. The top court thus admitted a petition challenging the re-appointment of the army chief and, after a tense debate spanning three days, ruled on the need to provide legal cover to an issue of vital importance that has thus far been deemed legal only for being a convention i.e. an existing practice. The court ruling that the extension should be backed by the law actually implies that none of the previous extensions — even those made by elected heads of the state — was legal. In what indicates a thoroughly democratic approach, the three-judge bench observed that there is “no better forum than the parliament” to remove “the ambiguity in the Army Act”.
In line with the court order, “the Parliament and the Federal Government [have] to clearly specify the terms and conditions of service of the COAS through an Act of Parliament”. Legislating through an act of parliament only requires a simple majority in parliament, which means the government and its allies need not worry about the opposition’s take on the different aspects of the issue. However, it is the democratic duty of the government to bring all political forces on board for a unanimous decision.
Buzdar a bust?
What makes Usman Buzdar untouchable? Over a year into his tenure as Punjab CM, the few successes that the PTI leader’s supporters would point to are far outweighed by the failures of his government on multiple fronts. For a multitude of reasons, Punjab had always been Pakistan’s best-managed province for much of its history. Although some would argue this just shows the influence of the ‘Punjabi elite’, the truth is that it also required competence at the top. Even though many CMs, including both Sharif brothers and Pervez Elahi, have been accused of corruption, it is undeniable that the works they did accomplish are still matters of pride for the province. Buzdar has little to show so far, even in terms of proposed works. When he was appointed, the PTI argued that those past CMs had concentrated development in Lahore and other urban centres. Buzdar, being from a backwards area, would spread development to forgotten parts of the province. Unfortunately, he has brought the problems of backwards regions, like dengue outbreak, back to the urban centres while failing to bring much good to underdeveloped areas.
But PM Imran Khan, appears to be sticking by Buzdar like glue. For this reason, everything going wrong with the province is being blamed on then bureaucracy. We recently saw the appointments of the province’s third chief secretary and fifth IGP during the last 15 months. There have also been six higher education secretaries since Buzdar took charge, along with three to four changes in services, schools, health, industries, excise, and food during the same time. Bureaucrats claim PTI legislators keep demanding illegal favours from them and the CM does nothing to punish them. PTI leaders claim this is because the bureaucracy is loyal to the Sharifs. But surely, if the entire bureaucracy were loyal to the Sharifs, wouldn’t they still be in power? A good CM must be a top-notch administrator or a master politician, if not both. Buzdar, unfortunately, is proving to be neither of the two.