UNDER authoritarianism, be it one man rule kingship, dictatorship or plutocracy, the Constitution invariably is for the benefit of the rulers. In a democracy, which is rule of the majority, the constitution is supposed to be for the greater good of large number of people. And Constitution is said to be a social contract between the State/Government and the governed (people) whereby latter give up sovereignty to the former in return of civil rights and liberties. Indeed, the Constitution defines the powers of the various pillars and organs of the State for its smooth functioning. In Pakistan, there are three pillars of the State: Parliament, Executive and Judiciary. Transition from quasi-democracy to full democracy was complete after February 2008 elections, and people had expected that pillars of the State would work within the parameters defined in the Constitution. But soon Parliament-Judiciary standoff was witnessed, as they remained engrossed in asserting power.
Last month, the Punjab Bar Council demanded the removal of a Supreme Court’s Justice for criticising the armed forces as well as premier spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence in a verdict on 6th February 2019 in Faizabad sit-in case. However, the Executive Committee of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) disapproved the Punjab Bar Council’s (PbBC) Executive Committee resolution against Supreme Court’s Justice Qazi Faez Isa and termed it uncalled for and against the independence of Judiciary. The Ministry of Defence’s review petition against top court’s February 6 of 2019 judgment on Faizabad sit-in case Stated: “The direction to the Chiefs of the Armed Forces of Pakistan to take action against the personnel under their command who are found to have violated their oath is vague and unenforceable”. It is hoped that institutions and pillars of the State would avoid confrontation, as clash between institutions is baneful.
In November 2018, a notification issued by the Law Ministry said that President Arif Alvi had removed Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui as a judge of the Islamabad High Court (IHC). The President had taken the decision after the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) recommended his removal, the Statement added. According to a letter written by SJC the Council comprising five Supreme Court judges had said that it found Justice Siddiqui guilty of misconduct over a speech he delivered in July last year before the Rawalpindi District Bar Association. The SJC is a constitutional forum that examines the conduct of superior court judges and then recommends their removal from the top post. At this point in time, when Pakistan is facing multifaceted problems, the clash between the institutions can be disastrous. The relationship between civil and military leadership was reasonably good since 2008 i.e. transition from quasi-democracy to full democracy.
However, in Memogate scandal efforts were made to put military on the mat, which led to differences between civil and military leadership. After 2013 elections PML-N formed the government, and relations between military and civilian leadership were commendable, as the then COAS Ashfaque Kayani did not take sides when PPP and PML-N decided to remove President Pervez Musharraf. However, Dawn Leaks was enough provocation for COAS Raheel Sharif as efforts were made to malign military that it was creating roadblocks in improving relations with the neighbouring countries. The impression was also conveyed that military was hesitant in taking serious action against the militant groups, which was not true. It is unfortunate that some politicians, intellectual elite, commentariat and civil society members through their Statements and comments denigrate the State institutions. They should realise that clash between institutions could shake up very foundations of the State.
The debate has been raging as to who is supreme; a section of intellectuals and constitutional experts hold the view that Parliament is supreme, whereas others say that Judiciary is supreme. In a constitutional polity, which we are supposed to be, it is indeed the Constitution which is supreme, whereas every pillar of State insists on its primacy. The fact of the matter is that none is superior over others; none is inferior to others; all are subservient to the Constitution, and all are bound to follow dictates and stipulations of the Constitution. Of course, Supreme Court has the right to interpret the clauses of the Constitution. No doubt, constitutional disputes and differences occur even in entrenched democracies; however incidence of such tiffs is indeed reduced to the minimum if all the State pillars respect the supremacy of the constitution and abide by it in letter and in spirit.
Sallust, Roman historian, one of the great Latin literary stylist and a great philosopher argued: “By union the smallest States thrive. By discord the greatest are destroyed.” Pakistan has all the ingredients like fertile land mass, four seasons, deep-sea ports and over and above all hard working people not only could make it thrive but also make it a great nation. However, it is imperative to take measures to build up confidence of the nation, strengthen our political system and institutions, develop a dynamic and sustainable growth, eradicate corruption, provide timely justice, enhance employment, undertake steps for population control, seek consensus-based political solutions, and resolve ethnic, sectarian and religious fault lines. Over and above, institutions should respect each other so that detractors of Pakistan or unconscionable elements do not get a chance to criticize them.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.