Pakistan court may force army chief to retire early

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s Supreme Court took a first step Tuesday toward blocking the extension of the army chief’s term, an unprecedented move that deals a blow to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan, who is believed to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s military, had hoped to keep Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa on for another three years, but his law minister — who resigned on Tuesday — appears to have fumbled the application by not submitting it to the president.

Pakistan’s army has been a major force in politics since independence from Britain in 1947, governing the country directly for several extended periods.

Khan said last summer that he needed Bajwa to stay on because of ongoing security concerns. Those include heightened tensions with India over the disputed Kashmir region, which both countries partially control but claim in its entirety.

Tuesday’s order by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and two other judges to suspend Bajwa’s term extension is only temporary, and the court will hear the case again Wednesday. The court has summoned Bajwa and sought a reply from the government about anomalies in his appointment.

He will be forced to step down Thursday if the court overturns the extension. Authorities say they are working to correct mistakes made in the application back in August.

The matter was originally brought to the knowledge of the Supreme Court by a local lawyer, Hanif Rahi, who withdrew his complaint Tuesday without explanation.

Law Minister Farogh Naseem, who had been in charge of the application for Bajwa’s extension, resigned on Tuesday. But the government defended his work and said he will now serve as Bajwa’s lawyer before the Supreme Court.

Khan meanwhile summoned a special meeting of his Cabinet in which it unanimously decided to try and retain Bajwa for three more years, said Shafqat Mahmood, a senior Cabinet minister.

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