Pakistan: PML-N ‘gives the nod’ to Army Act amendments

Pakistan: PML-N ‘gives the nod’ to Army Act amendments

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ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday reached out to the opposition parties to build a consensus on its amendments to the Army Act that seal the loopholes for extending the tenure of the army chief.

The efforts to take the opposition on board on the matter seem to have met with success with the PML-N indicating that it had no qualms over the amendments, which empower the prime minister to extend the army chief’s tenure by three years by making a recommendation to the president.

The PPP, despite expressing its reservations over attempts to “sidestep” the legislative process, has also consented to the changes.

However, the opposition parties will announce their final decision on Friday (today).

An in-camera meeting of a parliamentary committee comprising lawmakers of both of the ruling and opposition parties tried to reach a consensus on the matter. The two sides will meet again at 10:30am on Friday before the amendment bill is likely to be tabled in parliament.

After the meeting, PML-N’s Khawaja Asif said his party was satisfied with the amendments. “There was nothing that the government was unable to satisfy us about,” he added. Similarly, his fellow party man Senator Mushahidullah Khan told the media earlier in the day that the PML-N leadership in London had given the green light to supporting the amendments through consensus.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, who is part of a government committee formed to negotiate with the opposition on the amendments, described the talks as “positive and fruitful”. “We have yet to meet [JUI-F chief] Maulana Fazlur Rehman and a few other opposition leaders,” he said.

PTI MNA Amir Dogar was confident that the bill would be passed by both houses of the parliament on Friday.

The parliamentary committee meeting was attended by lawmakers belonging to the PML-N, PPP, ANP, JUI-F and other opposition parties.

The government side was represented by National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem, the Leader of the House in Senate Shibli Faraz, Federal Housing Minister Tariq Bashir Cheema and Federal Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Swati among others.

The opposition lawmakers were provided with copies of the draft of the amendment bill.

According to sources, the government has proposed amending three sections of the Army Act.

Earlier in the day, a government team, comprising Defence Minister Khattak, Leader of the House in Senate Shibli Faraz and Senator Azam Swati, met senior PML-N leaders including Khawaja Asif, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Rana Tanvir at the opposition’s chamber in the National Assembly to take the opposition party on board on the amendments.

According to the sources, the PML-N leaders assured the government team that the party would not turn the changes to the Army Act into a contentious issue in parliament.

Senator Mushahidullah told reporters that the army was a national institution and it should not be subjected to any controversy.

Defence Minister Khattak, accompanied by National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan, also met PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other party leaders at Zardari House in Islamabad to discuss the matter.

The other PPP leaders present at the meeting included Raja Pervez Ashraf, Nayyar Bukhari, Sherry Rehman, Raza Rabbani, Shazia Marri and Naveed Qamar.

According to sources, Bilawal stressed the need for following the legislative process while making the amendments.

Taking to Twitter after the meeting, the PPP chairman said the government committee had arrived at Zardari House to discuss the “upcoming legislation”.

“The Peoples Party wants to positively engage with the democratic legislative process. Some parties seem to want to sidestep the legislative process,” he added.

“The more important the legislation the more important it is for us to follow the democratic process. PPP will take this up with other political parties as well.”

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