Politics of confrontation

March 26, 2023

Imran Khan and his party have been in protest mode since 2013

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Photo by Rahat Dar.


he ongoing political crisis has deepened after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) postponed elections to the provincial assembly of the Punjab. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), already locked in a polarising confrontation, appear since then to have hardened their positions.

The latest development looks likely to spark off a constitutional debate as well as a new round of protests by the PTI and its like-minded groups and add to the political uncertainty.

After the ECP announced the postponement of the polls, Imran Khan announced that his party would protest against the move to ensure the supremacy of the constitution. His opponents were quick to accuse him of undermining the law and the constitution.

Historically speaking, all political, judicial and military leaders have tried to portray themselves as defenders of the constitution. History, however, tells a different story. The constitution has been treated like a piece of fabric that everybody wants to cut according to their needs.

In some important cases, the superior courts have supported extra-constitutional steps taken by powerful individuals. The infamous doctrine of necessity was invoked by Justice Mohammad Munir in 1954 to justify and uphold the dissolution of the constituent assembly by the then governor general, Ghulam Muhammad.

In 1989, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the National Assembly and deposed Benazir Bhutto’s government using his constitutional power under Article 58 (2) (b). The Pakistan People Party (PPP) filed a petition against the president’s action but the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed it and validated the presidential order on the ground that he had exercised his constitutional power.

In 1992, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan again dissolved the National Assembly and removed Nawaz Sharif’s government. Sharif filed a petition and the SC, led by Justice Naseem Hasan Shah, restored his government. The court observed that the presidential action smacked of ill intention. However, Sharif was forced to resign and fresh elections were called.

Photo by Rahat Dar.

In 1993, the then Punjab governor, Chaudhry Altaf Hussain, an uncle of the PTI stalwart Fawad Chaudhry, invoked the same constitutional powers to dissolve the provincial assembly. When the assembly was restored by Lahore High Court, the governor again dissolved it.

Rule of law has been turned into mere lip service. When courts render verdicts in favour of some political party or its head, they welcome the decision; when the verdict is against them, they do not hesitate to malign the same judges.

The political parties’ commitment to rule of law in Pakistan has amounted to mere lip service. When courts gives verdicts in favour of a political party or its leader, they welcome the decision; when a verdict goes against them, they do not hesitate to condemn and malign the same courts. Pakistan has witnessed some extreme criticism of judicial rulings in recent years. Various political leaders have at various times accused the judges of abusing suo motu hearings to indulge in ‘judicial activism’. The more suo motu hearings the courts undertake, the more likely they are to be accused of partiality and bias.

Imran Khan, the former prime minister, has kept the successor PDM government under pressure since his ouster. His party has been in the protest mode since 2013. It was, ironically, in the same mode while in governments. After the opposition ousted him from power through the first-ever successful no-confidence motion in the National Assembly in 2022, Khan used his social media strength and popularity against the PDM and the establishment. He has since then prevailed upon two chief ministers loyal to him to forgo their offices and dissolve the provincial assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, the PDM government in Islamabad remains opposed to early elections even after the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to announce dates for fresh elections.

Photo by Rahat Dar.

The PDM resistance has continued after President Alvi set April 30 for elections to the Punjab assembly. Following briefings by security agencies, the ECP has now issued an order postponing the polls on the grounds that the law and order situation is not good and that the ECP has not received the required financial and logistical support from other state’s institutions. The PTI has vowed to challenge the order before the Supreme Court.

Imran Khan has also been accusing the government of trying to have him killed. After a gun attack in Wazirabad, he had accused Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif of having masterminded the attack. Later, he had also accused former president Asif Zardari of trying to get him killed.

When police tried recently to arrest him, he reiterated his claim that there was a plot to kill him. “Five policemen have been assigned to kill me,” he said.

It appears that he is trying once again to motivate PTI workers, lawyers and civil society activists to take to the streets to protest the postponement of elections in the Punjab. Meanwhile, the parliament also appears to be trying to establish its supremacy.

Khan has also managed to attract international attention and some support. Amnesty International and some US officials have recently issued statements that support Khan’s narrative. No less than four battles are being fought simultaneously in Pakistan. One of these is between the PTI and the PDM, the second between the PTI and the establishment, the third between the current parliament and the judiciary and the fourth between some powerful institutions and the judiciary.

Photo by Rahat Dar.

If the Supreme Court now orders all state institutions to extend support to the ECP for holding early elections, the government could cite the economic difficulties and the law and order situation and refuse. This, then will deepen the crisis.

The current political crisis poses serious threats to the democratic setup in Pakistan. National reconciliation appears to be the only way forward.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at BukhariMubasher

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