Politics in Pakistan never fails to surprise and shock. But Imran Khan’s actions in the last few days have broken all records. Contrary to his defiant statements since the no-confidence motion was moved against him by the opposition to ‘fight till the last ball’, Imran Khan chose instead to take ‘flight’ when it had become obvious to even the purblind that he had lost his (precarious) majority in the National Assembly (NA). However, the manner in which this was done has created a constitutional crisis that the Supreme Court (SC) felt compelled to take suo motu notice of.
On April 3, 2022, the NA met to vote on the no-confidence motion. But instead of implementing this constitutional obligation, former (appointed just a day before) Law Minister Fawad Chaudhry argued on the floor of the house that the ‘foreign conspiracy’ to unseat Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government involved the active participation of the opposition, attracting thereby the provisions of Article 5 of the Constitution (enjoining loyalty to the state).
Since NA Speaker Asad Qaiser was himself the target of a no-confidence motion, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri ‘disallowed’ the no-confidence motion by taking refuge behind Article 5 and then abruptly prorogued the NA session. This blatantly unconstitutional and anti-democratic legerdemain at first left the opposition stunned, but they soon recovered to ‘continue’ the session with former NA speaker Ayaz Sadiq in the chair. This ‘session’ yielded 197 votes against Imran Khan, far more than the required 172.
Immediately after the manipulated rejection of the no-confidence motion and prorogation of the NA session, Imran Khan advised President Arif Alvi to dissolve the NA and announce fresh elections. The loyalist President duly obliged, but in the view of prescient legal and constitutional experts, violated the Constitution since the dismissal of the no-confidence motion was illegal and in any case a prime minister facing such a motion cannot advise the President to dissolve the NA.
On April 4, 2022, a day after the dissolution of the NA, President Alvi wrote to (now) caretaker Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan and (former) Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif to undertake consultations on names for the caretaker PM. This was roundly rejected by the opposition on the grounds of the unconstitutional handling of the no-confidence issue as well as by pointing out that after the (illegal) dissolution of the NA, there was no such person as the Leader of the Opposition any more.
In the absence of such consultations, the names proposed by the two sides of the political divide are to be taken up by a parliamentary committee composed of eight members from each side. If, as is likely, the opposition is consistent in rejecting this too since it flows again from the unconstitutional dismissal of the no-confidence motion and the immediately following dissolution of the NA, the impasse threatens the whole structure for its inability to then move the process forward towards fresh elections.
As has been the trend in our politics for the last two decades, the issue inevitably has landed up with the judiciary. The Supreme Court (SC) took suo motu notice of the affair and, in an extraordinary sitting on Sunday, April 3, 2022, advised all institutions of the state not to indulge in any unconstitutional acts, while binding any further decisions of the President and (interim) PM to the orders of the court. The hearing was continuing at the time of writing these lines, so it would not be appropriate to speculate what the outcome may be.
Meanwhile the army, through ISPR, has distanced itself from the whole brouhaha. Interestingly, while Imran Khan has attempted to build his whole ‘conspiracy’ case around the US allegedly working for ‘regime change’ in Pakistan, COAS General Qamar Jawed Bajwa in an address to a national security moot the other day attempted to soothe ruffled feathers in Washington, not the least by critiquing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and reiterating Pakistan’s desire not to be part of any bloc.
Underlying this attempt at damage control lie both military and economic considerations. Despite our close ties with China, the military top brass does not want its long standing ties with the US, particularly the Pentagon, weakened, despite Washington’s muted expression of annoyance with Islamabad for the US’s Afghanistan debacle. Instead of being sensitive to our unfortunate dependence on the US-led west and the international lending institutions under its control, Imran Khan could do no better than flog the ‘patriotic card’ once things began to slip out of his grasp.
It should not be forgotten that we have been unable to close the deal with the IMF (which produces new terms and conditions after every meeting) nor escaped the unwelcome attentions of the FATF. As predicted in this space after last year’s ignominious US retreat from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover, empires have long memories and are unforgiving. The easiest and most camouflagable method to punish Pakistan was always going to be through denying it the financial/economic support from the IMF (which opens the doors to other international lenders and the market) and putting it on notice through the FATF. This is in progress as we speak, rendering Imran Khan’s ‘adventurism’ against the US-led west ill timed, to put it mildly.
The uncertainty that has gripped the country because of the patently illegal, anti-democratic and unconstitutional manipulations of the past few days by Imran Khan and the PTI have raised alarm and concern within the country. How it will finally play out is difficult to predict. Optimists are looking to the SC to find a constitutional, democratic solution since the political class has been so divided and polarised by Imran Khan and company that not much in the way of positive good sense can be expected to flow from that direction.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022