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Orya Maqbool Jan

Lt.Gen ® Amjad Shoaib

Technocrats cabinet finalized? Hit list of targets made!



Maleeha Lodhi

THE confrontation between the government and the Supreme Court has plunged the country into a more dangerous and unpredictable phase of the escalating political crisis. As widely expected, the SC ordered elections to the Punjab Assembly to be held on May 14, declaring unconstitutional and illegal the Election Commission’s decision to postpone the polls to October. It also instructed the government to provide funds to the ECP and assure security for the provincial poll. The SC judgement upheld the Constitution even if the procedure it adopted provoked controversy and criticism. The legal community generally welcomed the verdict while expressing dismay over the internal divisions exposed in the process.

The ECP moved to execute the SC order by issuing an election schedule. But the ruling coalition ‘rejected’ the verdict and vowed not to implement it. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif struck a defiant note in the National Assembly calling the judgement a “murder of justice”. The law minister warned it would worsen the political and constitutional crisis. PML-N called on the chief justice to resign. So did its alliance partner, PPP. Heads of the ruling coalition declared the apex court’s decision would be “resisted” in all forums including parliament. The assembly then adopted a resolution against the SC’s ruling and urged the prime minister not to comply with it. It also asserted that provincial and general elections should be held at the same time.

Since the Punjab and KP assemblies were dissolved by the opposition in January the PDM government did all it could and deployed every alibi to avoid giving a date for elections. The ECP fixed Oct 8 as the date for the polls, which was then challenged in the apex court. Even before the ruling, Sharif and his ministers went on the offensive to subject the chief justice to pressure and insist on a full court bench to hear PTI’s petition.

With the government’s declaration of non-compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision, the two are set on a collision course. This compounds the political chaos in the country and the already fraught situation created by institutional clashes — between the executive and presidency, between the SC and ECP and now both the executive and legislature at loggerheads with the judiciary. All this is a consequence of the fierce power struggle between the PML-N-led coalition and Imran Khan. Their confrontation has turned these institutions into political battlegrounds. Political disputes have assumed the form of legal battles. Issues, including the election date, that should have been resolved by dialogue and mutual accommodation between political leaders, landed in courts, placing them under unprecedented pressure. And when courts gave their rulings one or the other side accused them of bias and partisanship.

A more dangerous and unpredictable phase of the escalating political crisis is unfolding.

What does all of this mean for Pakistan’s democracy? The political deadlock and breakdown of politics — when political disputes are no longer resolved by political means — have left democracy in a dysfunctional state. Democracy requires give and take, compromise and consensus to make it work. But when polarisation and searing divides make this elusive if not impossible, democracy is undermined. Toxic politics and extreme intolerance has created an environment inimical to democracy and is eroding any semblance of a democratic culture.

With PTI’s unwise decision for its lawmakers to resign from the National Assembly, parliament’s lower house is opposition-less and has become dysfunctional as a result. Moreover, the ruling coalition has hardly used it for legislation in the public interest. Instead, it has become a vehicle for the government in its political war, and is now being used against the judiciary. The resolution rejecting the SC verdict and aggressive speeches denouncing it in the assembly is testimony of this. All this has denuded parliament of its real role in a democracy.

The essence of democracy lies in strong institutions whose independence and decisions are respected by all political actors. But today, with state institutions in the vortex of the raging political conflict they are increasingly riven by internal divisions (Supreme Court) with their decisions being contested. How differences among judges of the apex court play out may have lasting implications for its credibility. As for the ECP, which stepped beyond its mandate and committed a constitutional transgression, its role has made it the object of public controversy. If these institutions serve as the infrastructure of democracy, their erosion and lack of cohesion, for one reason or another, leaves democracy weakened. Polarisation and political turmoil are taking their toll on the country’s institutions and exposing them to the risk of breakdown. The government’s intent now to undermine the SC’s authority and legitimacy by
its virulent attacks, refusal to abide by its decision and mobilise its supporters among the legal fraternity, will only undermine the rule of law, which is the bedrock of democracy. Equally, defiance of the law and Constitution will push the country on the road to disorder and chaos, and eventually entail a political cost for the PDM parties.

This conduct, the unremitting political maelstrom as well as stand-off between the pillars of state pose a rising threat to Pakistan’s fragile democracy. The unmistakable signal it sends to the people who are struggling with a cost-of-living crisis in a deteriorating economic environment is that the political leadership is concerned more with power than public purpose. What is in progress is ferocious intra-elite competition that has little if anything to do with public needs or the public welfare.

A bigger crisis with unpredictable consequences seems inevitable with the PDM government refusing to implement the Supreme Court decision. This is unprecedented in the country’s history. Growing public disquiet over the situation is reflected in an opinion poll conducted by the consultancy firm, IRIS communications. This finds over 70 per cent of respondents feel the country is going in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, Imran Khan has warned his supporters will take to the streets if the government doesn’t comply with the judicial order. This promises more unrest and instability ahead with greater damage to democracy. It also risks reducing democracy to a mere shell shorn of substance.


ON this day in 1973, the National Assembly achieved the formidable feat of giving Pakistan a permanent Constitution — the first document to be framed by a house elected directly by the people of this country. Pakistan’s constitutional odyssey up till then had been a haphazard one. From independence until 1956, the country was run under the Government of India Act, 1935, and it was nine years after partition that the country received its first constitution.

However, this document, though holding up the promise of parliamentary rule, was short-lived; the then president Maj-Gen Iskander Mirza would abrogate the document, declare martial law and hand over power to army chief Gen Ayub Khan. The latter would foist his own — and the country’s second — constitution upon Pakistan in 1962, which created a presidential system, and gifted to the country the Basic Democracies. However, this document, too, was put away when Gen Yahya Khan took the reins in 1969.

It is in the aftermath of these constitutional experiments and authoritarian interventions, and amidst the smouldering remains of what was left of Pakistan following the tragedy of 1971, that the quest for a new basic law began.

The challenge before then president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the constituent assembly that remained after the separation of East Pakistan was considerable. The nation was bitterly divided — as it is now — on political lines, riven by economic, social and economic problems, still not having recovered from the trauma of the eastern wing’s loss. But even in these difficult circumstances, the parties in parliament began the torturous yet vital task of framing a new basic law.

The journey towards adopting the 1973 Constitution was not easy. The gulf between the ruling PPP and the opposition alliance was wide, and leaders from both sides regularly censured each other. The adoption of the Constitution came down to the wire; even a few hours before the document was to be adopted, observers were not sure if the task would be achieved, and whether the opposition would end its boycott of parliament. However, dialogue and statesmanship won the day, when Mr Bhutto’s law minister Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, the moving spirit behind the 1973 document, told a relieved house that the opposition had ended its boycott. There were celebrations as the nation had seemingly achieved the impossible: consensus on a ‘home-grown’ Constitution amidst toxic polarisation.

The 1973 document gave Pakistan the basic structure it has today: a directly elected parliamentary system with a bicameral legislature rooted in federalism. The Constitution has survived suspension, mutilation and military coups, showing commendable resilience. The most brazen assaults on the document came during the Zia and Musharraf eras of military rule, but thanks largely to the indefatigable efforts of Senator Raza Rabbani, the 18th Amendment, 2010, revived the spirit of the original document by ensuring provincial autonomy and undoing the damage done by military strongmen.

Is the 1973 Constitution a perfect document? Not necessarily, but it is equipped with the tools to resolve disputes and address shortcomings, as the 18th Amendment has shown. The only solution lies in respecting the constitutional order and working to implement the lofty goals laid out by the basic law. Tinkering by adventurers — uniformed and civilian — opens the door to ad-hocism, and unleashes forces that threaten the very existence of the federation.

Arguably, the predicament that Pakistan finds itself in today is largely due to abandoning the constitutional framework. Respecting this framework would mean that all institutions act within their constitutional bounds — with the military resisting its saviour complex and yielding to elected authorities; political parties and civilian leaders tolerating each other and finding democratic, constitutional solutions to their disputes, instead of threatening to tear down the system, or rushing off to Rawalpindi for ‘guidance’; and the superior judiciary refraining from any temptation to ‘rewrite’ the Constitution.

As this paper noted in an editorial following the passage of the 1973 Constitution: “a constitution is only as good as the spirit in which the political elites, specially the Establishment, work it”. Those words ring true today as much as they did on April 10, 1973,
and Pakistan’s power brokers can learn many a lesson from the constitution-making process
of 1973.


ON the anniversary of the vote of no-confidence against former prime minister Imran Khan, it must be asked: was it really worth it? Clearly, the Pakistan Democratic Movement and its allies had no idea what they would be getting themselves into when they plotted to hasten the demise of the PTI government. It had seemed doomed to ignominy had it completed its term. Well before they voted to throw Mr Khan out of PM House, they had been asked, through these pages, whether they had any plan for what would be coming next. It was clear even then that their leaders had not thought things through. For example, they did not really know what to do about the floundering economy, which had started to be tossed and swept by the global commodity price supercycle. The lack of preparation showed as the new government bumbled and bungled its way deep into the fuel subsidy trap set for it by Mr Khan. The rest, as they say, is history.

When all else failed, Mr Khan found success in fibbing his way to martyrdom. The ‘cipher conspiracy’ saga paved his return to relevance when multiple attempts to win back the former army chief’s love and support, sweetened with the promise of a service extension with no expiry date, failed. This same army chief he would later go on to blame for all manner of evil under the sun (though, in some cases, perhaps not wrongly so). During this period and despite being warned not to, he shrugged off his duty to represent his supporters in parliament. He conceded the entire National Assembly to his political rivals, who proceeded to make short work of the country’s accountability laws and institutions to give themselves legal relief. He then proceeded to hand over even the two provinces he did control to his rivals in a display of naiveté that showed just how disconnected he has always been from realpolitik.

What we have 12 months later are two political factions still unwilling to come to terms with
the fact that their nonsensical decisions and positions have not only imperilled the entire democratic order but also exacted a massive and painful toll on the people of Pakistan. Citizens are now so sick of living with the constant uncertainty of not knowing what fresh misery tomorrow will bring, that many of those who have the means are looking for ways to flee the country for good. Young parents feel Pakistan is no place to raise their children, while older citizens say they’ve given up hope of seeing any improvement in the country’s fortunes within their lifetimes. So, if anyone is to ask what exactly has changed in the country over the past year, all one can offer is that it seems to have been gradually bankrupted of its resilience and hope. Commiserations to the nation on this inauspicious year.


Zahid Hussain

WHAT could be more ironical than a country experiencing a constitutional breakdown while ‘celebrating’ the golden jubilee of its constitution? Speakers at a commemorative convention held at Parliament House vowed, one after the other, to uphold the sanctity of the document. But very few among them seemed to have really understood its guiding principles and the spirit in which the basic law of the country was framed.

Fifty years on, we are still struggling to establish a truly democratic order, in accordance with the aspirations of the Constitution adopted on April 10, 1973. While commemorating the historical event, it is also time to reflect on where we have gone wrong in our constitutional journey.

Since its birth half a century ago, the Constitution has gone through phases of suspension and attempts to change its core principles that ensure fundamental human and democratic rights.

For a long period, the country was under direct military rule. For those uniformed usurpers, the Constitution was ‘just a piece of paper’ that they could tear up at any time. Gen Ziaul Haq, in particular, tried to reframe the basic objectives of the Constitution that are based on the freedom of expression and faith.

But it was not military rulers alone who tried to change the Constitution according to their wishes. Soon after its enactment, an entire community was assigned a minority status through an amendment in the Constitution in 1974. It altered the nature of the state envisaged by the nation’s founding fathers. 

Fifty years on, we are still struggling to establish a truly democratic order.As it acquired the power to categorise people according to their beliefs, the state got deeply involved in matters of religion, with long-term consequences for society as well as democratic values. Gen Ziaul Haq who ruled the country for more than a decade used the document to enforce his version of religion in an attempt to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state.

He redefined the ideological contours of the state that strengthened religious obscurantism. The rise of religious extremism and sectarianism largely owes itself to the laws enforced by the military dictator. Pakistan has never been the same again, with various insertions in the Constitution under the Zia regime.

His incorporation of the notorious Eighth Amendment in the Constitution had long-term implications for the democratic process in the country. But one of the most debated aspects was the change that made the Objectives Resolution, that was formerly a preamble to the Constitution, a substantive part of the document. 

It has been argued that this provided impetus to the religious parties striving to turn Pakistan into a hard-line theocratic state. It was all done to the nation’s detriment. It could never be changed by subsequent elected governments out of fear of a backlash by the religious groups.

Interestingly, some democratically elected leaders too tried to alter the Constitution to strengthen their political powers. While the 13th Amendment made during Nawaz Sharif’s second government abolished the Eighth Amendment in a positive development, the 14th Amendment ensured that there could be no dissent in any political party, and no defection from the latter. It was passed by both houses on the same day that it was introduced.

Nawaz Sharif’s move to pass the 15th Amendment through which he hoped to declare himself amir-ul-momineen was thwarted because of his failure to win a two-thirds majority in the Senate. This episode reflected the mindset of our political leaders desiring to accumulate absolute power. Such moves undermined the democratic process.

Not surprisingly, the government of Gen Musharraf in 1999 reintroduced the powers of the president that he came to enjoy under Article 58(2)(b) of the Constitution. It was back to the days of despotism. 

The Musharraf regime also introduced the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in order to indemnify the actions of the military government. The frequent disruption of the democratic process and prolonged military rule have been a major reason for the distortions in the Constitution. 

It is not only direct military rule but also the establishment’s deeply entrenched power which has been a major reason for constitutional democracy not taking firm root in the country. It may be true that the Constitution is an organic document and there is always a need to make changes in it as society and politics evolve, but they should be in conformity with the basic democratic principles.  

Undoubtedly, the passage of the 18th Amendment in 2010 by parliament, with the consensus of all the main parties, was a landmark development in Pakistan’s chequered political history. It overhauled almost a third of the Constitution, abolishing many of the distortions created by the illegal actions taken by military regimes. It removed Article 58(2)(b) of the Constitution, shifting the balance of power back to the prime minister and parliament. It returned Pakistan to a truly parliamentary system, limiting the powers of the president.  

But the most significant part of the 18th Amendment has been the strengthening of the federal structure of state. It has transformed centre-province relations. The division of power between the state and its units has been amongst the most contentious and recurring issues in Pakistan.

The devolution of power to the federating units removed the main source of tension between the centre and the provinces. Yet another enduring impact of the 18th Amendment is the recognition of children’s right to education and the provision of free and compulsory education to all girls and boys up to the age of 16 years.

Notwithstanding the positive side of the radical changes it introduced, the 18th Amendment left untouched some of Gen Zia’s regressive insertions that have caused the rise of religious extremism. Besides, it did not do away with the clause that bans non-Muslims from holding the office of president, therefore strengthening the sense of exclusion among minority members of society.

Surely, 50 years of our constitutional history calls for celebrations but what is most important is to make the document actually work. Unfortunately, that has not happened.  The country is still struggling to find a way forward. A reckless power struggle has left the democratic process much weaker than before, raising fears of yet another derailment of the Constitution.

Sakib Sherani

THE ongoing episode of distress in parts of the US banking industry, caused by the rapid rise in interest rates, has renewed focus on ‘zombie’ banks — barely surviving, financially undead institutions that have large unrealised losses sitting on their thinly capitalised balance sheets. The term has previously been used for firms that are financially unviable but have been kept alive by repeated government bailouts, akin to our state-owned enterprises.

Much like zombie banks and firms, can there be ‘zombie’ countries? Countries where state breakdown is advanced, where the economy has collapsed, which cannot service their debts and obligations to foreigners, and which can only meet their essential import needs by handouts and bailouts from increasingly frustrated, and a dwindling pool of, friendly countries?
Which are nominally sovereign and independent, but only on paper? Where a large swathe of the population has tired of the shenanigans of a corrupt, self-serving elite and are seeking a permanent exit from the country? Where businesses and the affluent are actively moving their capital abroad? In other words, a country ‘hollowed out’ in almost every sense by an asset-stripping, rapacious elite involved in internecine conflict?

If Pakistan comes to mind, let us first consider another country with somewhat similar endowments of natural resources and intelligent, hardworking people that has already crossed the line to failed state status: Lebanon.

Lebanon has endured decades of infighting among corrupt factionalised elites, warring power centres, and competition for influence among international and regional power brokers. The result has been a fractured polity, a hollowed-out economy, de-industrialisation, capital flight and brain drain, endemic shortages, widespread poverty, societal breakdown and social chaos. Not to mention a full-blown bloody civil war.

Pakistan is closer than ever to becoming a ‘zombie’ state. Unfortunately, Pakistan too finds itself on the edge of a similar dystopian condition. While the country has been a weak, ‘at-risk’ state for a long time, its cognitively-inert elites have been too busy in infighting, or looting, to notice.
Widening internal fissures aside, the red flags have been raised even from the outside for a very long time, either in Pakistan’s abysmal ranking in the Worldwide Governance Indicators, or its uncomfortable position in the Fragile States Index straddling the ‘warning’ and ‘alert’ categories.
However, the chain of events unleashed since, and by, the establishment’s regime change operation in April 2022, has accelerated the downward spiral. Pakistan has been thrown into political, economic, social as well as institutional chaos with a heightened danger of unintended consequences and highly uncertain outcomes.

The wheels appear to have come off the political system, with the government, parliament and Election Commission deciding to openly violate the Constitution and flout the judgement of the Supreme Court. In addition, the Supreme Court itself is in turmoil with a number of judges in open revolt against the chief justice.

While these shenanigans are playing out, the economy is in a tailspin. Businesses and industries are closing, many permanently (referred to as ‘hysteresis’). This situation has given rise to massive unemployment, on the one hand, and capital flight and brain drain from the country on the other. In conjunction with historically high inflation and the biblical floods, there has been a sharp rise in the ranks of the poor. While many are experiencing pauperisation, millions face outright destitution.

The bad news could get much worse. After wreaking destruction on the real sector, the economic crisis is headed towards Pakistan’s banks. This is the worst manifestation of an economic crisis, as it gridlocks the entire economy potentially for years.

Banks are facing rising pressure on two counts: first, from mounting losses on their credit as
well as investment portfolios due to a sharp increase in non-performing loans and interest rates respectively; second, from the largest borrower in the system potentially going ‘kaput’.
Government borrowing from the banking system accounts for almost 70 per cent of the latter’s total lending, and 92pc of its entire deposit base. Ten years ago, the figures were 62pc and 81pc respectively. Each T-bills auction requires a massive prior injection of liquidity by the State Bank to allow banks to be able to lend to the government. This is an untenable situation — which is being made worse each passing day by the political impasse.

With Pakistan facing unprecedented challenges and pressures across a broad front, the critical question is: can the dire situation be turned around, or is it too late? An unequivocal and immediate return to constitutional rule and the rule of law is the only way forward. The timely holding of free and fair elections by a credible and neutral set-up, and the transfer of power without impediment or conditions to the elected civilian government will defuse the multiple pressures that have built up.

Unconstitutional measures to delay elections and prop a discredited and failed set-up, or extra-constitutional measures to impose a technocratic government, will only deepen the fissures and not lead to either political or economic stability.

Ultimately, however, the answer revolves less around what needs to be done and more around who will step up. Who amongst the current actors on stage will be able to rise above petty egos and self-interested behaviour, however destructive to the national or institutional cause, and take a stand for following the constitutional path? (Sadly, if even ‘brother’ judges of the Supreme Court cannot demonstrate the requisite behaviour at a moment of extreme national peril, then it is expecting too much from the other lower-calibre players involved. We appear to be well and truly marching to the drumbeat of the March of Folly.)

To be sure, the window of opportunity to stave off the worst possible outcome has become narrower, and a chain of events with its own internal logic and momentum has been set in motion that could lead to unintended consequences and highly uncertain as well as undesirable outcomes.

Each passing day brings us closer to the edge. If Pakistan is to avoid Lebanon’s fate, the time to act has nearly run out.

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