A familiar debate has been reignited once again, as reports suggest that three separate bills seeking to take away the prime minister’s powers to retain retiring services chiefs and chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff committee have been submitted to the Senate Secretariat. This has at times been a longstanding contentious issue, rearing its head at the times of crises when exceptional circumstances can be claimed.
The bills are in relation to the Pakistan Army, Air Force, and the Navy, and have been moved by Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmad. Sealing this debate via the proper legal procedure could put this matter to bed once and for all, allowing hierarchy and merit to take precedence. It is important to remember that not too long ago, the extension of service chiefs was a subject that had consumed the nation. The parliament approved three bills that set a higher retirement age for the chiefs of the armed forces, allowing the prime minister to extend their terms at his discretion.
The bills seek to make a number of changes to reverse the measures that were taken in the year 2020 to secure the extension in services of the army chiefs. Regardless of how exceptional the circumstances maybe—and they are exceptional more often than not—it is imperative that appointments are meritorious and free of any controversies. This is not about dismissing the services or achievements of any individuals, but about reinforcing the institution and system over that of an individual. Sustaining this trend of extensions implies that the trust is being put in the hands of individuals, and not the institution.
Another benefit of this amendment will be the end of political speculation and controversy surrounding this issue, especially in light of what has been witnessed in the recent past where a legal crisis was triggered with the Supreme Court being involved. Given how affairs have played out in the political arena over the past couple of years, such an amendment, if approved, can allow us to hit the reset button and move past this debate once and for all.