Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry has said that the Supreme Court of Pakistan does not hold the authority to direct the parliament over legislative matters. The remarks came during an interview conducted by the American news website Voice of America, and published on Saturday.
In the interview, when asked to comment on a November 29 decision of the top court that had sought to address the legal ambiguity over the extension in tenure of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Fawad said that the decision of the Supreme Court directing parliament to legislate on the matter had several shortcomings and flaws.
On November 29, a three-member bench of the top court, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Mian Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, had reversed an earlier SC order suspending the extension in tenure of army chief, and given the government six months to legislate on the matter.
In a short ruling on a petition challenging the extension of the army chief, the court had ruled that General Bajwa could remain the Chief of Army Staff for another six months, during which the parliament could legislate on the extension/reappointment of an army chief. The court announced the verdict after assurances from the government in this regard.
Commenting on the verdict during the VOA interview, Fawad said that the federal cabinet was awaiting the release of the detailed verdict of the apex court in the petition challenging the extension in tenure of the army chief, after which the government would decide how to proceed forward. The decision to file a review petition still has to be finalized, he clarified.
Fawad also lamented that the SC had ignored Article 243 of the Constitution while announcing the verdict. According to the minister, the apex court did not hold the authority to decide on the duration of the appointment of the army chief, since a constitutional provision in 1973 had given the prime minister the prerogative in this regard.
Explaining his position on the matter further, Fawad said that the constitutions of 1956 and 1962 had explicitly defined the duration of the tenure of an army chief, but that constitutional provision had been struck down in the 1973 constitution in order to give the prime minister the authority to sack, reappoint, or extend the tenure of, an army chief.
“How can a prime minister sack an army chief before the competition of his tenure, should the situation call for it, if the Constitution has already defined the tenure the chief has to serve?” the minister questioned. Fawad added that the government was considering several options and would proceed on the matter with the consensus of all political parties.
When quizzed about the differences that existed between the government and the opposition, and how they could hinder efforts aimed at the smooth passage of any legislation in the parliament, the minister was of the opinion that all political players in the country were on the same page regarding the matter since the army chief was apolitical.
Any new legislation passed by the parliament would require at least a simple majority – two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment – in both the lower and upper house of the legislature. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, presently ruling through a coalition government, does not control the upper house, or the Senate.