Pakistan's powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was given a six-month extension by the country's Supreme Court on Thursday, just hours before his three-year tenure was due to expire at midnight. The court also directed the parliament to legislate on the matter within these six months.
The ruling came as a temporary relief to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose government's notification in August granting a three-year extension to General Bajwa triggered a legal row between the country's top institutions.
The Pakistani army, which is believed to have a disproportionate control over the country's politics, has often seen the tenure of its chief extended.
But earlier this week, the Supreme Court struck down the government notification in what was seen as a rare challenge to the Pakistani army's authority. This was followed by emergency cabinet meetings as the government scrambled its response. The law minister resigned on Tuesday to pursue the case, representing the army chief, news agency PTI reported.
On Thursday, a bench led by Pakistan's Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa directed the parliament to justify the tenure extension within the constitutional framework. "We are showing judicial restraint although there is no provision in law to grant an extension," Chief Justice Khosa told the court. "We leave this matter to parliament to make law regarding this," he said.
Imran Khan, who is seen to be close to the army in contrast to his predecessor Nawaz Sharif, tweeted soon after the ruling: "Today must be a great disappointment to those who expected the country to be destabilised by a clash of institutions. That this did not happen must be of special disappointment to our external enemies & mafias within."
In subsequent tweets, he also expressed his "greatest respect for CJ Khosa, one of the greatest Jurists produced by Pakistan".
General Bajwa took over from General Raheel Sharif as Pakistan's army chief in 2016. His critics have since accused him of orchestrating the 2018 election victory of Imran Khan, subverting civil liberties, and censoring the media.