In the space of two days, Pakistani politics has been turned upside down. Gone are questions over the economy, Nawaz Sharif’s health lies forgotten. The momentous issues of last week seem pale in comparison to the stakes of today. Three major institutions, the executive, the judiciary, and the military, stand at odds with each other over questions of law that carry immense legal and political weight. In many ways the situation is unprecedented, how it resolves itself will have major consequences for the decades to come.

With the government seeking to prevent the judiciary from delivering the already decided verdict against former dictator Pervez Musharraf and the Supreme Court suspending the government’s notification for the extension of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the senior judiciary are at drawn swords. While at first glance they may seem like isolated incidents, their proximity is not coincidence and each issue will have an impact on the other.

However, the matter of the Chief of Army Staff’s (COAS) extension is much more exigent. The apex court, through a panel led by the Chief Justice himself, has questioned the procedure followed by the PTI government when notifying the extension. After a year of haphazard governance it should not surprise anyone that the PTI cabinet fumbled this simple task too. It did not have a debate on the necessity of extension, did not seek approval from the rest of the cabinet, and more importantly, did not issue the notification from the President’s office – the only one with the power to grant extensions to government officials. As such the current notification is interpreted as possibly standing invalidated, and the attorney representing the government accepted as much on face value. But that is not all the Supreme Court had to say; if it was simply that the government was more than willing to repeat the process with all due diligence this time. The court also questioned the law behind the grant of extension. The Chief Justice observed there is no provision in the law that allows such a practice. Even more crucially, it questioned the logic of the “extreme circumstances” and “exigent need” quoted by the government. What are these circumstances, and if they exist do they necessitate extraordinary actions, divergent from the repetitiveness of established routine procedure?

The government is scrambling to answer these difficult questions. The President has passed a midnight ordinance expressly making extensions part of the law and the Law Minister has resigned so he can represent the government and the COAS in court.

At the end of this the Supreme Court can allow the retroactive ordinance and accept the reasoning presented by the PTI. Or – and here lies the crux of the matter – it can reject it. It is certainly within its constitutional powers to do so.