June 16, 2022
Much has been said about Pakistan’s failings as a state. Yet out of this chaos, a champion has risen like Bellerophon on his Pegasus: Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
On 7 April this year, four days after the President of Pakistan Arif Alvi dissolved the Assembly on the then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s request, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that the move was unconstitutional, saving the nation from another political meltdown.
The court ordered that the parliament be restored and reconvene on 9 April in order to proceed with the no-confidence vote that Khan’s government had intended to evade. The deputy speaker of parliament, Qasim Suri, was not within his rights to dissolve the legislature, ruled the court.
The week before these events unfolded, Khan lost his parliamentary majority and was almost sure to be ousted from power as a no-confidence vote loomed, where the opposition had the upper hand.
Khan’s ally, Suri threw out the motion for a vote, alleging that the vote was “unconstitutional,” and accused the opposition of being in cahoots with Uncle Sam to kick Khan out from power. The move spiralled Pakistan into a full-blown constitutional crisis. Until the intervention from the Supreme Court set the record straight.
Pakistan’s civil society and political observers lauded the move by the Supreme Court, dubbing it a victory for the constitution and democracy. In a system where a tracheotomy of powers exists, all three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judiciary) must keep each other in check.
The vote eventually took place and Pakistan’s lawmakers voted to remove Imran Khan from office. Opposition parties were able to secure 174 votes in the 342-member National Assembly, making it a majority vote. Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif — the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif filled the vacancy.
Not a smooth road ahead
A mere six weeks after he disgracefully tried to cling to power, and failed, Imran khan again found himself front and centre in the throes of power.
Shehbaz Sharif assuming power after a long wait failed to steer the country on the right path. His government failed to remove the petroleum subsidy, eating away at the country’s already shaky financial foundations. He couldn’t secure a deal with Arabs with whom relations had soured under Khan. He couldn’t even get his elder brother to take a zoom call, instead of having to go all the way to London for a chat.
Add to all this, Imran Khan’s simple and effective narrative of having power snatched away from him by foreign conspirators. And all of a sudden Khan, again, came to be considered by many as Pakistan’s only hope.
Sensing the ball is now in his court, Khan announced a long march towards Islamabad on 22 May announcing the country’s “battle for real freedom” would begin on 25 May.
His demands? The immediate dissolution of the National Assembly and a date for the next general election. The PTI chairman also sent a message to the country’s military and asked it to stick to its promise of “neutrality.”
However long marches are not concerts, people don’t just flock to them as Khan found out on Wednesday morning. But he had the ruling party’s inability to learn from the past on his side. Pakistan has a history of long marches to the capital by the opposition. And the one thing these marches taught was that violence against protesters is always counterproductive.
But the PML-N-led government chose to attempt to violently thwart the march. As The Dawn reported, “Tensions in Punjab rose after police made use of tear gas and arrested several PTI marchers in cities across the province as supporters attempted to remove shipping containers blocking routes to Islamabad.
The police also baton-charged protesters near Lahore’s Aiwan-e-Adal. Clashes between the police and protesters were also reported in other areas of Lahore such as Islampura, Karim Park, Mohni road and Badami Bagh.”
As the reports of brutal police action spread, the morning’s thin showing was forgotten. Footage of PTI leader Yasmin Rashid being harassed went viral. A video aired by broadcasters showed police landing blows on Rashid’s vehicle as it tried to pass through a cordon at Bati Chowk. A masked individual, hitting the vehicle forcefully, was also visible in the footage.
And in came the civil society’s criticism of the government’s ham-fisted actions.
“Thuggery. Absolutely unacceptable,” tweeted comedian Shehzad Ghias Shaikh. Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said that the PML(N)-PPP led coalition government only damaged themselves by using brute force and tear gas in different parts of the country.
“Another sad day in the charred democratic history of Pakistan,” he rued. Activist and academic Ammar Ali Jan referred to the treatment doled out to Yasmin Rashid as “an act of gangsterism.”
The country, it seemed, was jumping headfirst into chaos.
The Supreme Court interjection
Pakistan’s Supreme Court allowed Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to hold its Azadi March protest, peacefully, in Islamabad, after the government said it will not allow it. The court restrained Shehbaz Sharif’s government from arresting its leaders and workers in connection with the march. The court also instructed the authorities to not make “unnecessary use of force.”
A three-member bench headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Sayyed Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi, issued the orders after hearing the petition filed by Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) President Mohammad Shoaib Shaheen.
The SC bench also hoped that the top PTI leadership would also tell the party supporters to not take the law into their hands, playing the mediator once again.
“Pakistan’s judiciary has a tradition of giving landmark verdicts. Even when Imran Khan dissolved the Parliament and called for early elections by declaring the move unconstitutional, it can be said they played a role in the change of government.
During various political turmoil, Pakistan’s judiciary has played a positive role. They pull in the reins when the power brokers in Pakistan get overzealous, it has become a sort of tradition,” said Delwar Hossain, Professor of International Relations, at the University of Dhaka and Member of the Bangladesh Public Service Commission.
“But I wouldn’t go as far as saying they have saved Pakistan or brought about any qualitative changes to Pakistan’s political culture. We don’t see similar roles played by other supreme courts because the politics is not as confrontational in other countries,” he added.
After a day packed to the brim with political drama and violence across Pakistan, PTI chairman Imran Khan on Thursday gave a six-day ultimatum to the government to announce the election date. He vowed to return to Islamabad with three million people if his demand was not met and in direct violation of the apex Court’s directives he asked his party supporters to reach the D-Chowk in Islamabad’s Red Zone instead of holding the rally at a designated place identified by the apex court.
The federal government then filed a petition against Imran Khan seeking contempt of court proceedings against him. A five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial heard the contempt petition.
The Supreme Court disposed of the government’s petition seeking contempt proceedings against PTI Chairman Imran Khan, and stated that “whatever happened yesterday has shaken the court’s trust in the country’s political parties.”
So, as things stand today Pakistan might soon need further saving, with an imminent economic crisis (as talks with IMF fell through on Thursday) on top of political turmoil.
Meanwhile, neutrals requested both the ruling coalition and PTI to hold talks for a negotiated solution to their political disputes. Wednesday morning, the two sides met. Yousaf Raza Gillani, Ayaz Sadiq, Ahsan Iqbal, Malik Muhammad Khan, Asad Mehmood and Faisal Sabzwari represented the coalition government while Pervez Khattak, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Asad Umar represented the PTI.
The talks, which are said to be in the initial stages, had no breakthrough but it is expected that the two sides will meet again with the neutrals facilitating them.
Pakistan Politics / Imran Khan / Pakistan supreme court
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