Living by Constitution

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News & Views

Mohammad Jamil

PAKISTAN celebrated Constitution Day on April 10 — the day when Constitution was passed by the National Assembly in 1973. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, NA speaker Ayaz Sadiq in their statements vowed to uphold the Constitution. Media carried articles on this day; in a national daily, Secretary General Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a veteran journalist I.A. Rehman in his article in a national daily stated that the people should know their rights enshrined in the Constitution. He observed: “Celebration of the Constitution will have meaning if the people are made familiar with the core of the document, that is, the limits to the state’s authority and the inviolability of their rights.” But there is need to highlight the provisos and limits to the freedom of speech and expression in Article 19 of the Constitution, which means that this freedom is not absolute.
There are certain sacrosanct limits that have to be exercised in the civil polities; and universally accepted norms and standards have to be adhered to in all conditions. But all those niceties are thrown out of the window by a few writers and analysts, who take a particular pride in an uninhibited expression, holding it up boastfully as a manifest of their independent mind. In this pursuit, they in their first pretentious device pick up military and intelligence agencies for vituperative onslaught, considering them as a fair game for expression of their unbounded freedom. In fact, freedom of expression is one of the most abused freedoms in Pakistan where commentariat have been flouting the provisions of the Constitution. The nation watched some TV talk shows in which participants’ unleashed avalanche of blistering censure against military and intelligence agencies of Pakistan.
Aristotle defined constitution in broad terms “mode of life, which included not only the political institutions of a community but the distribution of wealth, the religious myths, and the education and leisure of its citizens”. Nevertheless in modern parlance constitution is said to be a social contract between elected government and people, which encompasses duties and responsibilities of the ruler and the ruled. The people after waging struggle for centuries were able to achieve certain fundamental rights, and concept of civil society had emerged that guaranteed those rights. Civil rights were developed first in the eighteenth century followed by political rights in the nineteenth century. The most modern concept of human rights was evolved as a result of the social policy reform of 1945 Labour government in England followed by other European countries, backed by United Nations Charter after 2nd World War.
In Pakistan, the socio-economic inequity has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. For over half a century, federating units were denied the autonomy and the rights enshrined in the constitution, which resulted in inter-provincial disharmony and weakening of the federation. The politicizing of the institutions and lack of speedy justice were also the causes for bringing the country to the present pass. The state apparatus often fell victim to personalized whim and self-aggrandizement of the ruling elite, which failed to convert peoples’ idealism and aspirations into concrete actions. But there is a redeeming feature that a broad cross-section of the society has started thinking about social inequities, economic disparities and improbities that have permeated the society. Voltaire had said: “Once a nation begins to think it is impossible to stop it.” People of Pakistan have also started thinking.
There have been a lot of discussions and polemics to find ways and means to stop army’s intervention and promulgation of Martial Laws, but no serious effort was ever made to identify the causes that led to promulgation of Martial Laws in Pakistan. In fact, the concept of democracy and capitalism emerged after Industrial Revolution giving death knell to feudalism. However, in Pakistan though feudalism does not exist in earlier form but feudal mindset pervades all strata of society including political parties. Before military’s intervention in 1977 and 1999, political parties had formed alliances to get rid of the elected governments, and there is incontrovertible evidence that politicians had been asking the army to intervene. The PPP and PML-N were twice in power during 1990s but they failed to deliver because they remained preoccupied with the shenanigans to get rid of each other’s government.
The fact of the matter is that there was hardly any difference between praetorian rule and elected governments so far as governance was concerned. Two major parties have had more than one opportunity to show to the people the difference between dictatorship and democracy. They in fact had failed to establish democratic institutions, promote democratic traditions and implement peoples’ welfare policies. At this time in point when the country is faced with threats to its internal and external security; people are suffering from rampant inflation, unemployment and terrorism; army is busy in demolishing militants’ network, the government should try to create harmony between the institutions and pillars of the state. The government should deliver to the people, as it is people’s power that can protect democracy, and mere pledges by the politicos for not allowing imposition of dictatorship in the country are not enough.
To prevent army’s intervention, the politicians have to practice democracy in their parties; they should strengthen economy; provide basic necessities of life and utilities to the people at affordable prices. In other words, the rulers should ensure good governance, socio-economic justice and focus on the policies that lead to welfare of the people. Last but not the least, all organs of the state should work within the ambit of the Constitution, which is a social contract between the state and the people. In a democratic and civilized society, the constitution guarantees the fundamental rights of the people; and it also delineates the powers, duties and obligations of the organs of the state and state institutions. At the same time, it also places checks on their powers so that they remain within their limits. If one organ of the state trespasses in the other’s domain, the result would be conflict, chaos and even anarchy.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.
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