Legislating on army chief’s appointment ‘a matter of honour’ for govt: attorney general

Web Desk – November 28, 2019

Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan on Thursday said that to legislate on the matter of an army chief’s appointment and extension of tenure “will be a matter of honour for the government”.

“This is not a matter of adversity for the government,” said AG Khan, as he addressed a press conference following the court’s verdict earlier in the day which had stated that Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa will serve as the army chief for six more months.

Special Assistant to the PM on Information & Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, SAPM on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar,  Attorney General of Pakistan  Anwer Mansoor Khan and Barrister Dr. Mohammad Farogh Naseem addressing a Press Conference in Islamabad on Thursday. — PID
Special Assistant to the PM on Information & Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, SAPM on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Attorney General of Pakistan Anwer Mansoor Khan and Barrister Dr. Mohammad Farogh Naseem addressing a Press Conference in Islamabad on Thursday. — PID

The court had announced its decision while directing the government to pass legislation which it said was missing from existing laws. The short order had noted that according to Article 243, the authority to appoint an army chief lies with the president. However, there is no duration of appointment specified in the Article.

“Today’s decision is a historical decision. The way the Constitution has been interpreted will provide guidance for us in the future,” said the attorney general.

Speaking of the unprecedented nature of the case and the proceedings that followed for three days, he said it was important to note that “various laws were debated upon and many things came to the fore which were never before decided in court”.

“It is important to state here that the Army Act is pre-partition and after small modifications, it is being amended. It was never before challenged in court,” said AG Khan.

He said that was the reason why “no one ever realised the mistakes involved in the procedures that were being followed”.

The attorney general said that prior to Gen Bajwa’s appointment, many chiefs of staff were appointed and many got extensions using the same method that was employed this time around.

“The summaries were the same and the rules were followed in the same manner. There were no additions or any changes made.”

He said that it had been a custom to do things the existing way and so when the first notification was issued it was “a routine notification”.

AG Khan said that the court, in its observations, had consistently referred to two things:

  1. A general (currently) does not have a superannuation age.
  2. No law mentions the chief of army staff — how he will be appointed or what his “term of office” will be.

“You must have seen Article 243, as well as Regulation 255 of the Army Act, mentioned in the proceedings a lot. Article 243 deals with the appointment of the chief of general staff and Regulation 255 deals with his rank,” explained the attorney general, adding: “Of course, each was examined separately.”

He said that the court had pointed out that in all past notifications and summaries, Regulation 255 was cited and had said that the rule does not pertain to the chief of the army staff and so should not be mentioned.

AG Khan said that the prime minister, since the inception of his government, had categorically stated that the law and the Constitution should be followed.

He said that the court while instructing the government on the amendments required in the notification, had kept on stating that “Article 243 should exclusively be mentioned and there should be no mention of Regulation 255”.

The attorney general said that resultantly the notification submitted in court today morning only referred to Article 243. He said that the government was then instructed to “remove the court’s name with reference to a delay” which was then removed.

AG Khan then went on to explain the crux of the short order. He said that the court had noted that Article 243 states that the appointment of an army chief by the president “is subject to law” but since there exists no law for the appointment, “they have asked us to make a law mentioning the tenure and the methodology of his appointment”.

The attorney general also advised the media not to “talk against Pakistan”. “Ever since the judgment was announced, I was watching TV shows. The matter was being presented in a very odd manner.”

“Our enemies abroad are taking undue advantage of that. Pakistan is yours as much as it is ours. Do not talk against Pakistan or speak about anything which gives them the opportunity to talk against us.”

Naseem warns media against running ‘fake news’

Farogh Naseem, taking the floor, said that the judges “had admitted that Article 243 was a point of first impression”.

He reminded the media persons gathered there that a petition challenging Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s extension had been filed but was dimissed without a verdict “due to non prosecution”.

“If the Supreme Court had ruled on the matter then, we would have had the guidelines this time around.”

He thanked the three-member bench for “providing the government guidance at every moment”.

He said that comments are sometimes made in the courtroom to lighten the atmosphere. Referring to one such comment by “a judge when he told the attorney general he too could then be an army chief”, Naseem said that it was ill-advised to run such comments as “breaking news”.

He said that the judges simply seek to provide guidance and their remarks should be interpreted through that lens.

He said that the media was selectively showing “negative commentary” but avoiding to cover positive aspects of proceedings “such as when Justice Mansoor Ali Shah praised Naseem on multiple occasions: ‘He is doing good work. His drafting is solid. He will get things done immediately.’ “Why were these comments not run as breaking news?” asked Naseem.

Saying that there was no truth behind the alleged reprimanding of Naseem, Shahzad Akbar, and the attorney general by the prime minister and Gen Bajwa, he warned the media that the government is considering taking action against outlets which had run this “fake news”.

“The channels should either inform us about who gave them this news or if they are helpless and cannot, then action will be taken.”

He also regretted the airing of “similar false news” regarding his “licence not being intact”. “I got permission today, had my licence and appeared in court.”

“So please understand the context. This was a delicate case pertaining to Pakistan’s security agencies, your chief of army staff.”

He said India was having a field day because of the way it had been presented by the media.

“We should all have demonstrated responsibility. This was not such a case in which we should have felt the need to flout our expertise in journalism.”

“You can flex your journalistic muscle but [not in such cases],” he said, before telling media persons: “You are an inseparable pillar of the state”.

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