Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during the 74th Session of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York on September 27, 2019. Photo: AFP/Don Emmert

What a mockery of democracy it is that now the chiefs of Pakistan’s armed forces will enjoy a longer service term than their country’s puppet prime minister. Pakistan was never really a democracy, of course, but the cherished 18th constitutional amendment made some space within the ultimate power hierarchy for the so-called elected representatives of the country to have at least some control over the important sectors of this failed nation-state since 2010.

But as the Army Act of 1952 along with the Pakistan Air Force Act of 1953 and Pakistan Navy Ordinance of 1861 now have been amended, from now on the people of Pakistan will be forced to endure an unprecedented political reality.

The de facto ruler of the state is the serving Chief of Army Staff, whether he holds the office of the executive of the country as a result of a successful coup d’état or is just the army chief. In the past, the world witnessed presidents of Pakistan dissolving its parliament at the will of the COAS, but then former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s government amended the 1973 constitution for the 13th time in 1997 to strip the president of his reserve power to dissolve the National Assembly.

It triggered a sense of insecurity among the military establishment as the amendment was thought of as “piece of paper” that chewed into its powers, and thus the dictator General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 crushed the constitution underfoot and took over the country, as it was the only way to get the lost authority back. He amended the constitution for the 17th time to restore the lost powers of the president, which could be used as the COAS saw fit.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari during his term constitutionally deprived the president (himself) of his power to dissolve parliament. Amending the 1973 constitution for the 18th time, Zardari triggered a sense of insecurity among the military supremos once again.

Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Because there were no powers left in the constitution for the president, the tradition of lobbying the government was initiated to force the theoretically powerful prime minister to consider the Chief of Army Staff for a reappointment. Zardari kissed the feet of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani by awarding him a three-year extension of his COAS tenure. Kayani’s doctrine was given more time to be absorbed in a sufficiently dead bedrock of democracy and to help the establishment contain its insecurity.

But Nawaz Sharif refused to extend the tenure of General Raheel Sharif and is, therefore, facing the consequences of that to this day. For Pakistan, its insecure establishment brings more political and economic instability and uncertainty than anything or anyone else.

Unlike Sharif, the current prime minister, the full-fledged boot-licker and puppet of the establishment Imran Khan, acted as he was dictated to, victimizing the opposition to bring their leaders to their knees in front the true rulers. Khan followed every order of the puppeteers and left no strategy undone to turn the parliament into a complete rubber stamp for the establishment and its chief.

The way the Army/Navy/Air Force amendment acts were pushed through parliament should persuade any rational human being to declare the process and the amendments unconstitutional, undemocratic and immoral. Khan called an emergency cabinet meeting on January 1, where the bills were “unanimously approved” by the members. On January 2, the main opposition (read, the latest shameless turncoats of a modern failed state) Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) assured their unconditional support to legislate over the issue of Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s extension.

On January 3, the puppet administration tried its best to get the approval of the defense committees of the National Assembly and the Senate but had to reschedule the National Assembly Defense Committee’s session to January 6. On January 7 the bill was finally presented by the glove-puppet defense minister in the National Assembly and without any debate, the bills were voice-voted by the members of the lower house. In a mere 45 seconds, the bill was accorded approval by the shameless boot-polishers of the Khan administration and the major opposition parties.

On the same day (January 7), the Senate’s Committee on Defense approved the bills, and the next day (January 8) it was presented in the upper house. State broadcaster Pakistan Television (PTV) muted the audio when the senators who opposed the bill said “No” during the voice vote.

This is how you strangle democracy to death, by crushing the constitution underfoot and betraying millions of voters in parliament.

Before these amendments were made, it was considered a highly unconstitutional practice for a prime minister to extend the term of the Chief of Army Staff, and therefore it could easily be challenged in a court of law. Former PM Nawaz Sharif refused to extend the service tenure of General Raheel Sharif for that reason, but he has been subjected to Khan’s political victimization as a result. Now that the constitution authorizes the executive to extend the service tenure of the chiefs of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, without any delay or dither, it can be extended if the COAS wants it so.

From now on, then, every COAS will enjoy a six-year term, more than an elected representative of the country. In my view, the amendment should have authorized parliament to extend the term of service of a COAS as it sees fit. But that would have strengthened democracy up and down the suffering nation-state, increased the insecurity of the supremos and wouldn’t let the fake Nelson Mandelas of Pakistan – the Sharifs and Bhuttos – advance their self-interests at the cost of the interests of the country.

Ali Salman Andani

The writer is a journalist and economic and political analyst and columnist for Asia Times and various online and print media outlets. His analysis focuses on economic, political, social and cultural issues, especially those related to corruption, human rights violations, the global market economy, foreign policy, and environmental crises. Find him on Twitter @an_alisalman

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