There is an ongoing stalemate between the federal and Sindh government on the extension in the mandate of the Rangers in Karachi. The latter has claimed that the two-month extension given by the federal government to the Rangers while rejecting the summary sent by the Sindh government was tantamount to the encroachment on its provincial autonomy and a breach of the constitution.
The stance of the Sindh government is premised on Article 147 of the constitution which says “Notwithstanding anything contained in the constitution, the government of a province may with the consent of the federal government, entrust, either conditionally or unconditionally, to the federal government , or to its officers, functions in relation to any matter to which the executive authority of the province extends, provided that the provincial government shall get the functions so entrusted ratified by the provincial assembly within sixty days.”
The contention of the Sindh government was that it was the prerogative of the provincial government to give conditional or unconditional powers and the provincial assembly was the appropriate forum to ratify the decision of the provincial government. If we were to read this independently without any reference to other articles of the constitution regulating the relationship between the federation and the federating units, this argument seems quite convincing.
However, one pertinent point to note is that the Rangers were called for the assistance of the provincial government in 1989 as well without any conditions and the matter was never taken up in the provincial assembly for ratification as required under Article 147. In the present circumstances also, no conditions were clamped on the Rangers’ powers and again the provincial government did not have it ratified from the assembly within the sixty-day prescribed in the constitution. The decision of the provincial government to put these conditions on the powers of the Rangers and have it ratified at such a belated stage raises questions about the intentions and legitimacy of the cause.
The federal government has issued a notification for the extension in the mandate of the Rangers under section 4 (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act which is very much in line with Article 142 (b) which states that the “Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) and a provincial assembly both have powers to make laws with respect to criminal law, criminal procedure and evidence.”
Under this article, both the federal and provincial governments can legislate on terrorism, which falls within the domain of criminal law. Article 143 clearly defines which law will prevail in case of any inconsistency between the two. It reads “If any provision of an act of the provincial assembly is repugnant to any provision of an act of Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) which parliament is competent to enact, then the act of Majlis-e-Shoora whether passed before or after the act of the provincial assembly shall prevail and the act of the provincial assembly shall, to the extent of repugnancy, be void.”
Article 149 (1 and 4) also confirms the ascendant role of the federal government stating that “The executive authority of every province shall be so exercised as not to impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive authority of the federation, and the executive authority of the federation shall extend to the giving of such directions to a province as may appear to the federal government to be necessary for that purpose. The executive authority of the federation shall also extend to the giving of directions to a province as to the manner in which the executive authority thereof is to be exercised for the purpose of preventing any grave menace to the peace or tranquility or economic life of Pakistan or any part thereof.”
I am not an expert on our constitution, but I have tried to ferret out the truth by going through the constitution, particularly the articles relating to the relationship between the federation and the provinces, their respective domains of power over the subjects under their jurisdictions and the laws enacted by the provincial assemblies and the parliament on the same subject.
As per my understanding, the stance of the Sindh government in this controversy is constitutionally very weak. Although the PPP government in Sindh denies that the confrontation with the federal government on the issue was related to the arrest of Dr Asim, there are very strong indications to suggest otherwise. Dr Asim was arrested by the Rangers in light of the statements of suspected militants belonging to the MQM and the Lyari gang indicating his connections to terror-financing and money laundering. Terror-financing is as serious a crime as the carrying out of an act of terrorism and his arrest was more than justified.
My hunch is that the clamour by the PPP government in Sindh about the powers of the Rangers and the unnecessary ‘politicising’ of the issue is not just about protecting Dr Asim. The PPP is probably afraid that the prosecution of Dr Asim might unmask other high-profile faces.
The federal government will not and should not allow political expediencies to scuttle the targeted operation in Karachi. The PPP government in Sindh also needs to revisit its stance because the odds are heavily against it. The targeted operation in Karachi has been a roaring success and the people of Karachi, the business community and traders who have been the victims of extortion now feel more confident and secure.
Incidents of terrorism, target killings and extortion have discernibly reduced in the last year. The people across the country, especially in Karachi, are appreciative of the role that the Rangers have played in tackling these crimes and want an unconditional extension in their mandate. The federal government and the security establishment also have an unfaltering resolve to bring peace to the city of Karachi and not tolerate any impediment in this regard.
Under the prevailing circumstances, the advisable course of action for the PPP government in Sindh would be to allow the Rangers to continue their operation uninterrupted without curtailing their powers in order for them to pursue what is best for our collective national interests. The targeted operation must remain above political expediencies because nothing trumps our national interests.
The writer is a freelance contributor.