By Alasdair Pal
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended an extension of the term of office for the country’s army chief, putting it on a possible collision course with the powerful military.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa was handed a rare three-year extension on Aug. 19, with the office of Prime Minister Imran Khan citing tension with neighbouring India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Khan’s government has enjoyed good relations with the military, in contrast to the tensions between the civilian government and army under the party of his predecessor and rival Nawaz Sharif.
In a hearing to validate Bajwa’s extension on Tuesday, Pakistan’s Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said the court was suspending the decision until the army produced detailed arguments on the reasoning behind the move.
“If the (regional security) situation is so then the army as a whole body can deal with the situation, not the individual,” Khosa said. “If this criteria is allowed than every individual in the army can demand an extension on the same grounds.”
He also said Khan’s office has failed to follow procedure by submitting the extension request itself, rather than going through the office of Pakistan’s president.
If the extension is blocked by the court, Bajwa’s term will end on Friday. Khosa issued notice for representatives of the military and the government to appear in court on Wednesday.
The court’s action surprised analysts tracking Pakistan’s influential military, which has ruled the country for nearly half its 72-year history and takes the lead in setting security and foreign policy.
It comes a day after several high-ranking generals were transferred to new roles.
“The unhappiness in the various institutions at the informal power that the army chief has acquired… may have brought different institutional forces together to challenge the extension,” said Ayesha Siddiqua, an analyst who wrote a best-selling book on the Pakistani military.
An army spokesman declined to comment, but a Pakistani military source said the army was still confident Bajwa would be granted an extension.
“The extension has been delayed only on a technicality and will be sorted out tomorrow,” he said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to publicly discuss the issue.
During Bajwa’s tenure the military has been accused by opposition politicians of electoral manipulation that helped Khan to power last year. The military has always denied interfering in politics.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, the army chief of staff 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.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Alex Richardson)