Pakistan’s Supreme Court has temporarily suspended an extension of the term of office for the country’s army chief, putting it on a possible collision course with the powerful military.
The ruling comes as a blow to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had said earlier this year that he needed General Qamar Javed Bajwa to stay on, citing continuing tension with neighbouring India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Bajwa was handed a three-year extension on August 19.
Pakistan suspended trade and downgraded diplomatic ties with India following New Delhi’s decision to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its special status on August 5. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over the Muslim-majority region, which both countries partially control but claim in its entirety.
Tuesday’s interim order is only temporary, and the court will hear the case again the following day.
In a hearing to validate Bajwa’s extension on Tuesday, Pakistan’s Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said the court was suspending the decision until the army produced detailed arguments on its reasoning.
“If the [regional security] situation is so then the army as a whole body can deal with the situation, not the individual,” Khosa said. “If this criteria is allowed then every individual in the army can demand an extension on the same grounds.”
Under Pakistan’s constitution, the army chief of staff usually serves a three-year term. Since the role was established in 1972, only one general has had his term extended by a civilian government.
Khosa issued a notice for a representative of the military to appear in court on Wednesday. If the extension is blocked by the court, Bajwa’s term will end on Friday.
Khan’s government has enjoyed good relations with the military, in contrast to the tensions between the civilian government and army under the party of his predecessor and rival Nawaz Sharif.
During Bajwa’s tenure, the military has been accused by opposition politicians of electoral manipulation that helped Khan come to power last year.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 72-year history and takes the lead in setting security and foreign policy, has always denied interfering in politics.