What happened in Pakistan on Sunday had the optics of a man standing on the roof of a tower who is about to be pushed over the edge by a crowd. But he jumps himself, and then says, “na na, see, I tricked you”. Except, the man who jumped did not cause his own death but murdered the Constitution and plunged the country into a constitutional crisis, leaving it without a government or Parliament.
On the day of the vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan, it had become clear that he faced a crushing defeat – the united opposition parties had 199 votes and the government had barely 70 members in the House. The “surprise” or “trump card” he had been touting for weeks turned out to be his intent to burn the entire house down.
The Three Big Violations
Citing an international conspiracy against Imran Khan’s government, of which there is not a shred of evidence, newly appointed law minister Fawad Chaudhry asked the Deputy Speaker to reject the motion. In a clearly unconstitutional and stunning move, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri simply rejected the motion after declaring it an international conspiracy, without holding a vote or allowing the opposition to make its case, after reading out a pre-prepared statement on behalf of Speaker Asad Qaisar, and prorogued the session.
Neither was it in his power to reject the motion without putting it to the vote nor to prorogue the assembly since the Speaker already faces a no-confidence motion, which, once moved, has to be voted upon within seven days. And for those seven days, the session cannot be prorogued. This was a well-planned assault on the Constitution of the country and a thwarting of the democratic process. This strike on Pakistan’s democracy was even more serious and blatant than the election heist that was carried out in 2018.
After this, Imran Khan appeared on television, congratulated the “awaam” on defeating a conspiracy and announced the dissolution of the assembly. And shortly thereafter, President Alvi announced the dissolution.
The three flagrant violations of the Constitution by the Deputy Speaker, then the Prime Minister and then the President left the opposition and the public in shock, and the country in an unprecedented void of law or government.
The opposition announced a sit-in in the House and later proceeded to count the votes under the leadership of PMLN’s Ayaz Sadiq, and also proceeded to the Supreme Court to have the Deputy Speaker’s move ruled unconstitutional.
Imran Khan's 'Irrational' Moves
The stupefying question arising here is if Imran Khan had to dissolve the assembly and go into fresh elections, why didn’t he do it lawfully before the no-confidence motion was filed against him? The one executive power he ceased to have after the no-confidence was moved was to dissolve the assemblies.
The next befuddling question is that if he was finally faced with defeat, why did he go out of his way to violate the Constitution to end his government, instead of just letting the vote go ahead?
Because none of these acts is rational – and they attract Article 6 of the Constitution that carries the death penalty – they appear to be an act of a mix of sheer narcissism, arrogance, contempt for law and constitution, and anger and vindictiveness. But on the other hand, the very fact that no sane person would court the death penalty so blatantly makes it almost certain that all these persons were assured of immunity from certain quarters. Whether these quarters will be able to deliver on the undertaking remains to be seen.
The Prime Minister had gone mad, but had the Deputy Speaker and the President, too? That is very unlikely. Normally, the Constitution is violated to either grab power or to illegally stay in power, not to lose it or to dissolve one’s own government.
Here, too, the real intent seems to be to continue in power with all signs pointing to it: Arif Alvi has already asked Imran Khan to continue as Prime Minister until a caretaker is decided upon; Imran Khan’s former Cabinet members are announcing that voting in the next election will be carried out via the electronic voting machines and overseas Pakistanis will be allowed to vote; names of nominees have been sent to Shahbaz Sharif (as opposition leader) to decide on caretaker Prime Minister – whereas the assembly is dissolved according to the PTI – and former cabinet ministers have already announced that if Shahbaz Sharif does not become part of the process, then the caretaker Prime Minister will be of Imran Khan’s choice.
A Well-Planned Election Heist?
So, the entire plan appears to be to carry out another election heist by rigging the entire system and obviating any checks and balances the opposition could apply. All eyes are on the Supreme Court now, which is to adjudicate whether Suri’s ruling was illegal. That the court started with a three-member Bench instead of a full court, then delayed convening for five hours on Sunday, and then adjourned for a day instead of resolving the crisis immediately, doe not augur well for its final verdict. Indeed, on Monday, too, the hearing was adjourned after inane questions and remarks.
The Supreme Court can wash many of its past sins if it rules justly in this matter. The case before it is an open and shut one – as every constitutional expert in the country has been at pains to explain. But Pakistan’s judicial history has a unique aspect to it that can never be forgotten: hark back to what was reported in The Times in the UK when the Supreme Court of Pakistan was hearing the case of General Pervez Musharraf being able to contest elections in uniform.
At least three members of that Bench were shown compromising videos of either themselves or their family members to obtain a favourable verdict. “The ISI was sending the girls and the judges were enjoying it without knowing they were being filmed. Now, they have videos of several judges,” one court source had told The Times then.
The Judiciary Has a Tainted History
One judge on that bench back in November 2007 was the same Justice Javed Iqbal who went on to become chief of the commission on forcibly disappeared persons and was accused of sexual harassment by disappeared persons’ female relatives. He is the same man who then went on to head the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and his indecent video was leaked by the Imran Khan government when he said something about corruption in the PTI government. From thereon, he dutifully pursued opposition leaders relentlessly with false charges and illegal incarceration.
Judge Arshad Malik of the NAB court, who died mysteriously, is also on record as having admitted that he was blackmailed with a video to convict former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is Pakistan’s tragedy that its destiny has been shaped more by such videos of those plonked in power corridors instead of their vision, knowledge or values.
Should the Supreme Court once again return an unconstitutional verdict, we would have a reasonable guess as to why.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion article, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)