Friday June 14, 2024

A country of traitors?

By Kamila Hyat
April 07, 2022

‘Traitor’ is a very strong word. It is used for those who act against the country in manners that can obviously hurt its interests. Indeed, so serious is the crime of treason that many nations which have otherwise outlawed the death penalty retain it for those who are considered to be traitors and found guilty of the crime.

In our nation, we are brandishing the word far too freely. Using Article 5, an opening part of the constitution which states that the primary duty of every citizen is loyalty to his or her country, to brand the entire opposition as traitors is ridiculous. The Supreme Court is of course ruling on whether this Article can be used to stop a vote of no-confidence in parliament as it is going ahead, and whether the prime minister who cannot do so in other circumstances, can act to dissolve the assembly at such a moment.

There are of course, many other legal dilemmas, as well as ethical and political ones, that need to be considered. These apply in Punjab as well, where a standoff has continued between Hamza Shehbaz representing the PML-N and the joint opposition and Pervaiz Elahi, who has been selected to represent the PTI and its allies. Again, we seem to be playing an extraordinary awkward game of politics, in which there are no empires, no third umpires, no referees, and no one to govern precisely what is happening.

There are also other questions about the whole matter. One of these is how many people truly understand what is happening and why it has so many consequences. The breakdown of constitutional law is always serious. Already it has badly affected our economy, with the IMF stating it is pausing its programme for Pakistan, given that it does not know who to talk to in the absence of a cabinet or finance minister. This will obviously damage Pakistan. At the same time, the rapid rise of the dollar by about eight rupees within a few days means a huge burden on Pakistan in terms of its foreign transactions. There will also naturally be no investment in the country, given the uncertainty that prevails. We saw the stock market in Karachi crash earlier after the crisis in the National Assembly broke out and threw the country immediately into disarray. We cannot live in such disarray.

The other problem which needs to be looked at is just how depoliticized people have become. In many ways. This especially applies to younger people. Many seem unable to understand precisely why a misuse of the constitution is such a serious matter, with some asking what the problem is if a clause is misused at any rate. The whole debate is governed by whether or not the person in question supports or opposes Imran Khan. Broader aspects from democracy and conditional rule have been lost in this entire fray. This too is a serious matter. For a democracy to work, people need to understand that the constitution is a document which guides us on how to run it and what is right, what is admissible and what is not. At the moment, all this seems to have been put aside, but no one cares.

People speak of wanting Imran Khan to continue, while others suggest Shahbaz Sharif would be a better choice, but no one seems to care about the misuse of the supreme law of the land or precisely what the constitution says on various issues. This is something that for the future needs to be examined. A country cannot function effectively as a democracy if its people are so indifferent to the constitution and what is happening under it. The abuse of the constitution or the deliberate misuse of clauses within it is a very serious matter and cannot simply be ignored.

The chaos that has overtaken the country is in itself a huge problem. For days now we have had no cabinet. It had looked for a long time that the PTI was guiding the country towards just this place of complete chaos. It seems to have succeeded and we have no way of knowing what has to happen from this point on. Saving our country must, for the moment, be the primary responsibility of all those involved in what has become a soap opera, with people watching television channels in the same spirit. From drawing rooms to cafes, people look on at the endless talk shows as if they were a piece of theatre with no bearing on reality.

But there is a very real bearing. We must not allow our constitution, mangled and disfigured as it is, to be ignored completely. To do so would be a terrible loss to all of us, and to the future of the country. The tactics used by the PTI were clearly underhand. While many cricketing terms have already been used to describe this, there are others such as the use of a beamer or a ball thrown to the batsman, underhand, which can also apply in this case. There was simply no fair play, and no one to ensure that fair play took place.

It now lies in the hands of the Supreme Court to determine what is to happen next. The court has perhaps never faced a situation where it must look at Article 5 and decide if it is applicable in this case. The five-member bench has already said it is not interested in policymaking or the actions of political parties, but only in the constitutional framework of the country. Mending this framework and putting it back together is now the most important task ahead of us.

There has to be some way to put our democracy back on track and also to ensure that no further misdeeds or a violation of rules is carried out. The triumphant looks from the PTI, as it used a peculiar means to stop a vote of no confidence it was almost certain of losing, are disturbing. It shows that all that matters to people is their own seats and nothing else. Power then is a very powerful magnet and even Imran Khan for all his words has not been able to pull away from it. Indeed, the nature of Imran Khan as a person and a leader is being spoken out about by those who were his former allies with strong words coming through. These must also be considered. But of course, it is hard to do so when men such as Aleem Khan are immediately labelled as traitors as are others who dare to speak out against our ‘Captain’. Some way out of the abyss has to be found.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: