Pakistan’s Supreme Court gave the country’s army chief a reprieve yesterday, allowing him to hold on to power for at least six more months after a days-long legal battle posed unprecedented questions about the nuclear-armed nation’s most powerful institution.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa has served three years in his role, arguably the highest authority in the country, and in August Prime Minister Imran Khan asked him to extend his tenure and serve another three.
The request is not unusual. The Pakistani military has long played an outsized role in national life, ruling the country for roughly half its 72-year history, while many army chiefs have gone well beyond their mandated term.
This time, however, the Supreme Court has raised questions about the legality of the decision, in an unexpected move that has shocked the South Asian nation long accustomed to seeing the military get its way.
Yesterday, hours ahead of the midnight deadline for Bajwa’s term to expire, the court said it was granting him a conditional extension of six months, giving parliament time to clarify the constitutional guidelines under which an army chief’s tenure could be prolonged.
“Considering that the (army chief) is responsible for the command, discipline, training, administration, organisation and preparedness for war of the army ... we, while exercising restraint, find it appropriate to leave the matter to the parliament,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told the court.
Khan celebrated the court’s decision.
“Today must be a great disappointment to those who expected the country to be destabilised by a clash of institutions,” the prime minister tweeted moments after the ruling.
But the episode has damaged Khan’s administration, which is seen as close to Bajwa.