Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the three-year extension given to the powerful Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa till Wednesday and said the entire process was 'upside down', in an embarrassment to Prime Minister Imran Khan who cited 'regional security environment' for his decision to grant the top general another term in office.
The unprecedented move by the apex court to suspend Prime Minister Khan's decision on August 19 could raise the tension between the judiciary and the powerful Pakistan Army. It also came just three days ahead of 59-year-old Bajwa's retirement on November 29 as the Chief of the Army Staff in his first stint.
"The entire process was upside down. First, the Cabinet should have given the approval, then the prime minister and president should have been advised," Geo News quoted Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa as saying.
Reacting to the embarrassing development, Khan chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting and took back the notification to extend services of General Bajwa.
Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood told journalists that the Cabinet took back the earlier notification and also took measures to address the concerns of the apex court.
He said the Cabinet also changed the Pakistan Defence Services Rules and added word "extension" as pointed out by the Supreme Court.
"A summary was sent to the president to issue a fresh notification after approval by the Cabinet," the minister said.
Pakistan's Law Minister Farogh Naseem also resigned on Tuesday to represent the government in the case regarding Bajwa's extension in the Supreme Court.
The petition against Bajwa's extension was filed by a person named Raiz Rahi, who later field an application to withdraw it. However, the chief justice rejected his withdrawal bid and took up the petition as a public interest litigation under Article 184, Pakistani media reported.
During the hearing, the chief justice said the government notification on August 19 mentioned an 'extension' while the notification issued by the Prime Minister's Office says the army chief has been 'reappointed'.
"As per rules, there is no authority of extending army chief's tenure or his reappointment. The government can only suspend his retirement and the army chief has not retired yet," Khosa said.
The chief justice after suspending the government's notification adjourned the hearing until Wednesday.
The powerful Pakistan Army, which has ruled the country for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has wielded considerable power in deciding matters concerning security and foreign policies.
On August 19, Prime Minister Khan approved a 3-year extension to the tenure of General Bajwa, citing 'regional security environment'.
Ties between India and Pakistan worsened following India's decision on August 5 to revoke Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370.
Reacting sharply to India's decision, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi and expelled India's ambassador in Islamabad.
Khan also took into account the ongoing Afghan peace talks between the US and the Taliban militants, facilitated by Pakistan, for extending Bajwa's tenure.
"General Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointed Chief of Army Staff for another term of three years from the date of completion of current tenure," according to the notification in August.
'The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment,' the notification had said.
During the hearing, the chief justice said that only the president of Pakistan can extend the tenure of the Army chief.
He also observed that when the matter was discussed in the Cabinet, only 11 out 25 members approved the extension.
"Only 11 members of the Cabinet gave approval of the summary for the extension of army chief's tenure. We cannot say the majority gave the approval," he noted.
"In a democracy, the decisions are made through the opinion of the majority. Those members who did not give an answer, we should wait for their answer. These members did not say 'no' either.
"Did the government assume that the answer of those who did not give an answer translates into 'yes'?" Geo News quoted Khosa as saying.
"The prime minister was told he did not have the power. Then it was found out that both the prime minister and the president did not have the power and the final decision rests with the Cabinet and on August 21, the matter was sent to the Cabinet," Khosa said.
The top judge also wondered why the notification referred to the extension as a re-appointment.
Attorney General Anwar Mansoor contested the observations by the chief justice, saying that the extension was announced after approval of the president.
However, the chief justice suspended the extension notification and fixed the next hearing for further proceedings.
It is for the first time that the top court has suspended a notification by the government to extend service of the powerful army chief.
The Army so far has not commented on the development.
Gen Bajwa is the second army chief to get full term extension in recent times. Earlier, Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani was given a full term in 2010.
Prime Minister Khan and Gen Bajwa have been working closely. Bajwa accompanied Khan on his maiden US visit during which he met United States President Donald Trump at the White House.
Khan had also nominated Bajwa as a member of the National Development Council, in an unprecedented move.
When Bajwa was appointed army chief by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, he superseded three other generals.