November 27, 2019 / 2:41 PM / 15 days ago

Pakistan's top court ramps up pressure on government to explain army chief extension

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the government one more day to explain why it granted a three-year extension to army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, setting up the possibility of a rift between the judiciary and military.

Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa arrives to attend the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

The court’s push has put the government in a fix over extending Bajwa’s time in the position, who has good relations with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan’s cabinet has twice approved a three-year extension for Bajwa, citing a worsening national security situation in the region over its rivalry with India.

But in a surprise ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court suspended the extension, citing a series of irregularities and ordering the government and the army to produce legal provisions and detailed arguments on the reasoning behind the move.

The court adjourned without passing a verdict on Wednesday. Bajwa’s term expires at midnight on Thursday, leaving just one day to decide the general’s fate.

“If something unlawful has happened we have taken oath to correct it,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told a courtroom on Wednesday.

The government had so far failed to provide legal justification for reappointing Bajwa, he added.

The court’s decision has ramifications for the government and the powerful military, which has ruled Paksitan for more than half of its 72-year history.

Khan’s administration has enjoyed good relations with the armed forces, in contrast to the previous government of his main rival Nawaz Sharif.

On Tuesday, law minister Farogh Naseem resigned in order to represent Bajwa in court, and being overruled by the court would almost certainly weaken Khan.

During Bajwa’s tenure in the military has been accused by opposition politicians of electoral manipulation, meddling in politics, suspension of civil liberties and muzzling the media that helped Khan to power last year. The military has always denied interfering in politics.

The army chief 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 Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, editing by Alasdair Pal, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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