It feels good when the apex court of your country delivers a verdict that fulfills the aspirations of its people. Before the verdict, there were apprehensions and fluctuating hopes. Keeping in view not all enviable judgments of the past at least 70 years, the court could have tilted either way.
Now, with a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has made us all proud and hopeful. There is hardly any doubt that the PTI government that Imran Khan led turned out to be one of the most regressive – if not the most destructive – for constitutional and democratic norms. With its devastating impact, the PTI government appeared to be in competition with the military regimes of generals Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq. As months and years passed, Imran Khan’s ploys got from bad to worse but when the worst came, the Supreme Court of Pakistan led by Chief Justice Omar Ata Bandial dealt a severe blow to the shenanigans of the Khan government.
With its remarkable verdict, the five-member bench prevented a possible subversion of the entire constitutional façade. The government’s attempt to thwart the vote of no-confidence on April 3 failed miserably as the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional and all its subsequent decisions also lost all their legal effects, if any. Though Pakistan has experienced multiple assaults on democracy, the attacks that the PTI and nearly all its leaders and ministers launched were unprecedented by a civilian government. This onslaught would have continued unchecked as the mood of Imran Khan and his coteries displayed. The credit goes entirely to the honorable judges and to the opposition and civil society which refused to bow.
Though the PTI has some of the most experienced politicians in its fold, somehow all appeared to have a single-point agenda that Imran Khan handed down – undermine the constitution and demolish all democratic norms. The entire PTI leadership and their followers demonstrated – and still do – a brazen disregard for democratic order. Whenever such assaults take place in Pakistan, our civil society including human rights organizations, journalist associations, lawyers’ bodies, and most political parties come out in unison. But the superior courts have not always supported their struggle.
Whenever the constitution and democracy are under threat, the people of Pakistan need to reassert themselves. In this episode, the Supreme Court led this process of reassertion and concluded with an appreciable finale. The country has gone through innumerable experimentations of dubious nature. All constitutions in the country have faced mutilations by both political and non-political forces. It is civil society – activists, columnists, educationists, human rights bodies, intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, and others – that stands up as the custodian of the constitution.
But, enemies of the constitution are also aplenty. They plant and propagate anti-democracy feelings by creating chaos in the system. Such situations give a justification for wrapping up parliament itself. That may not be ideal but is much better than the presidential systems dictators have imposed at various times and courts have validated. Autocratic rulers, from Malik Ghulam Muhammad and Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza to Gen Musharraf and Imran Khan, have done incalculable harm to democracy in the country. They had a common streak of stubbornness and narcissism. They insisted on carrying on even if they had outlived their welcome and had exhausted all their options.
They waited for an ignominy that they could have avoided by exiting gracefully. Their primary target was the root of the constitution and democracy. They did not want to allow the opposition to vote them out, rather they wanted to outmaneuver democracy by all unconstitutional and undemocratic means. They wanted to prove that democracy was a farce and a strong man could put things right just by eliminating his enemies.
Some people have an extraordinary ability not to learn anything. It becomes hard to convince them of their own incompetence. Their charisma impresses many who consider them infallible. They become blind – or nearly so – to the changing realities. Imran Khan has been wasting his energies on all the wrong things without considering the full implications of his missteps even if they lead the country to a near disaster situation.
Constitutions show their countries a way forward; they provide basic procedures to run the business of the country. Reckless violations of this consensus document have time and again driven Pakistan into a morass. There have been many shameful iterations of historic blunders that the courts were ready to forget and forgive, just for the sake of ‘moving forward’. Now the Supreme Court has apparently shut the door on these iterations. Ideally, the Supreme Court should have never shown any sympathy to those who violated the constitution. But we have had many judges who were ready to approve the dissolution of popularly elected assemblies.
The use of Article 5 by Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri was a blatant attempt to subvert parliamentary procedure. It will go down in history as yet another dark chapter in which civilian politicians – or apparently so – who could have upheld the constitution opted to violate it with egregious alacrity. A primary trait of any democratic leader – more so of a speaker – should be his or her loyalty to the constitution, failing which they morph into murderers of democracy. To attain their goal they turn a blind eye to a narrow vision of their master.
And that’s what has been happening in Pakistan during the past 45 months. Such political turmoil has an economic cost too, which ultimately the citizens of Pakistan have to pay. We have been perpetually living in uncertain times. The country can avoid this uncertainty only when generals, judges, and politicians all come to a conclusion that constitutional provisions and democratic norms must be supreme to all other considerations. The economy needs stability and that in turn depends on a consistent adherence to the constitution. It is about time that our decisions-makers – major and peripheral – stop citing foreign conspiracies to hide their own incompetence.
Similarly, the factories that churn out allegations of treason and produce ‘traitors’ in droves, must stop functioning. Generals, judges, and politicians must follow their own constitutional paths. The survival of Pakistan as a country will, to a great extent, depend on how its political and non-political forces respect fundamental rights of citizens. No extra-constitutional measures have a place in any democratic dispensation. The Supreme Court has made it clear, and all should appreciate it. This verdict of the court has rekindled our hope in the future of this country and now all politicians must not squander this opportunity.