ISLAMABAD - The National Assembly yesterday passed three amended bills regarding the tenure of the services chiefs — Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff — and the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The amended bills including ‘The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020’, ‘The Pakistan Navy (Amendment Act)’ and ‘The Pakistan Air Force (Amendment Act)’ were approved unanimously in absence of the protesting members.

Later, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati, on behalf of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, tabled all three bills in the Senate.

The three bills would have a smooth sailing in the Senate today (Wednesday) only a day after the government tabled these in the Upper House.

As the Senate Standing Committee on Defence in its Tuesday evening emergency session also approved the bills, these would be put to vote before the house today under an already agreed timeline between the government and the opposition.

In the National Assembly, the lawmakers from JUI-F and two independent MNAs from North Waziristan staged walkout from the proceedings demanding proper debate on the amended bills.

Independent MNAs Mohsian Dawar and Ali Wazir raising their concerns over clauses of the amended bills gathered near the speaker podium in protest. Both the lawmakers made a failed attempt to take the floor and later tore copies of the bills and left the house in protest.

With the onset of proceedings, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP-P) leader Naveed Qamar said his party had decided to support the amended bills without moving any amendments to them. “The party has decided to withdraw its recommendations moved earlier in the National Assembly secretariat,” said PPP-P MNA, adding that they were in favour of giving a unified stance.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, after a long absence from the parliament, took part in important legislation on amended bills.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak moved the three amended bills passed by the standing committee on defence including one pertaining to amendment in Army Act, which will pave way for three-year extension in tenure of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The three legislations empower the prime minister to extend tenure of chairman joint chiefs of staff committee and three services chiefs for three years.

The minister on a single-point agenda moved the amendments in the acts which ensure the future extension in tenure of an army chief. Such extensions will not be challenged in any court of law.

Earlier, Chairman Standing Committee on Defence Amjid Ali Khan presented the reports of the Standing Committee on these bills which were referred to it on January 3, 2019 after introduction in the House.

After their passage from the Upper House, the bills would be sent to President Dr Arif Alvi for his assent to become an act of the parliament.

Hours after their passage from the National Assembly, the bills introduced in the house were not on the original agenda and were brought through a supplementary agenda.

The lawmakers belonging to JUI-F, Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), National Party (NP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) rose from their seats and chanted slogans of ‘no, no’ as the minister tabled the bills.

National Party’s Senator Ashok Kumar abstained from the protest launched by his party. Though the ANP has also opposed the bills, its only member in the house Sitara Ayaz also remained seated.

The brief session only continued for some 20 minutes and no other agenda other than laying of few reports was taken up.

Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani referred the three bills to the Senate Standing Committee on Defence. Later, the committee in its hurriedly called session approved all these unanimously.

According to agenda of the session issued for January 8 (today), these draft bills have been included in it to put to vote in the house. The house today will adopt a motion for suspension of rules for taking into consideration the bills.

With the two major opposition parties-PML-N and PPP-P have already supported the bill, the opposition-dominated house is set to pass these smoothly.

The statement of objects and reasons of ‘The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020’ says, “This bill seeks to amend provisions of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, so as to empower the president on the advice of the prime minister, to specify the tenure and the terms and conditions of service of the chief of the army staff or the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee, including the grant of extension to, and reappointment of the chief of the army staff or the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee”.

According to the clause about ‘appointment of the chief of the army staff and the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee’, “The president shall, on the advice of the prime minister, appoint a general as the chief of the army staff for a tenure of three (03) years. The terms and conditions of the chief of the army staff shall be determined by the president, on the advice of the prime minister,” it says.

The clause related to ‘the reappointment or extension of chief of the army staff’, says, “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or any other law for the time being in force, the President, on the advice of the prime minister, may reappoint the chief of the army staff for additional tenure of three (03) years, or extend the tenure(s) of the chief of the army staff up to three(03) years, on such terms and conditions, anything contained in this Act or any other law, or judgment of any court, the appointment, reappointment or extension of the chief of the army staff, shall not be called into question before any court on any ground whatsoever”.

According to the bill, Section 8-A, B, C, D, E, F will be inserted in the Army Act where Section 8-C about retirement age and service limits of the army chief says, ‘the retirement age and service limits prescribed for a general, under the rules and regulations made under this Act, shall not be applicable to the chief of the army staff during his tenure of appointment, reappointment, or extension, subject to a maximum age of 64 (64) years”.

The government had introduced the three bills in the National Assembly on Friday last in the light of the Supreme Court verdict directing it to remove ambiguity in laws and provide legal grounds to the extension given to COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Earlier, the apex court had suspended notifications granting extension to General Bajwa.