NA panel clears Army Act amends for 2nd time

By Uzma Zafar
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence unanimously approved the three bills concerning tenures of the services chiefs and the chairman of joint chiefs of staff committee, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak confirmed on Monday. “The amendments were passed unanimously by the body. I congratulate the entire country and the opposition parties,” the minister said, adding that these bills will now be put up for voting in the NA tomorrow. Responding to a journalist’s question, Khattak said all political parties were on the same page regarding the matter. “No one has backtracked, we should avoid rumour mongering. All political parties are on the same page and are standing alongside the armed forces.” Meanwhile, Law Minister FaroghNaseem, while talking to media personnel after the approval, said the “opposition was looking for the creation of a role for a parliamentary committee [for services chiefs’ appointment]”. “But I convinced them legally that the changes they are recommending require a constitutional amendment,” the law minister added. “A parliamentary committee’s role will come into play only after a constitutional amendment creates that role… and even the Supreme Court has not asked us to amend the Constitution,” he said, adding that the opposition members accepted his arguments with a “big heart”. The bills were reconsidered by the NA committee today after the body had earlier approved the amendments in a rushed session on Friday. New timeline Informed sources in the government had on Saturday told Dawn that a new timeline for the entire legislative process had been agreed upon under which the NA standing committee on defence after approving the bills on Monday will lay its report before the house on Tuesday and the assembly would pass the bills the same day before referring them to the Senate for a similar procedure. The Senate defence committee, too, would be required to approve the bills on Tuesday and present its report to the house on Wednesday (Jan 8) for the immediate passage of the bills, the sources added. The government that wanted to get the bills passed at the earliest had to postpone the sessions of the two houses convened for Saturday when the opposition protested over the “undue haste” being shown by the ruling coalition. The government, the sources said, had agreed to the new timeline on the demand of the opposition parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that had presented its own timeline in light of the directives received from the party supremo Nawaz Sharif from London for the whole process, suggesting that the bills should be passed on Jan 15. When contacted, Federal Minister for Science and Technology FawadChaudhry confirmed to Dawn that the NA standing committee on defence had been rescheduled for Monday to take up the bills again. He, however, refused to offer any comment on the newly agreed timeline. Mr Chaudhry said the most important thing for the government was to complete the whole process with consensus. “Now it’s important to accommodate opposition’s concerns. We are to create a balance between two things. Number one that the matter should not linger on for an indefinite period because of the situation and secondly we want to do it with consensus,” the minister said, adding that “we have agreed to place the bills before the NA committee again on Monday for the sake of developing a consensus”.