A section of the political class has been hoping and praying since 2009 that the PPP-led federal government will be replaced by a more acceptable government. Several deadlines for such a change were given in 2009 and 2010.
One future scenario is popular nowadays with those who entertain the mistaken notion of rectification of all ills of Pakistani state and society by removing the PPP-led federal government. They also talk of setting up a government of technocrats and professionals that should hold on to power for two to three year.
They are hoping that the Supreme Court or the military or both will cause such a change. They want the Supreme Court to order some punitive action against the federal government, including the removal of some senior official for non-compliance of its order. They also want the army chief to support the Supreme Court vis-à-vis the federal government and implement its order against the federal government.
This is a flawed wish list that seeks to improve efficiency and performance of the government by unconstitutional means. Any change of federal government by any method other than the one prescribed in the constitution will amount to a full or partial coup. There is no provision in the constitution for the government of professionals and technocrats for an indefinite period. For the time being, the Supreme Court and the military may put forward a new version of the doctrine of necessity to justify the removal of the government by other means. However, in the long run both will find it difficult to bypass Article 6 on High Treason whose scope has been extended by the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
Interestingly enough, the talk is about the removal of the federal government only whose powers have already been reduced under the 18th Constitutional Amendment. How would the professionals ensure better governance without placing their own people at the provincial level? If the provincial governments are removed, it would mean the exclusion of all political forces which will create a major political mess for the new non-elected rulers whose constitutional legitimacy would be dubious.
Corruption and mismanagement of the economy are not the only problems in Pakistan that can be addressed by handing over power to professionals. This is one dimension of Pakistan’s predicament. No government can make a breakthrough in the economic domain in the near future if the issues of internal and external security, religious extremism and terrorism are not addressed. Will the new government pull out its troops from Swat and the tribal areas and let these areas be taken over by Taliban-type groups. Even if this strategy is adopted what is the guarantee of peace and stability in the rest of Pakistan? How would then Pakistan interact with the rest of the world and especially the West? What would be the strategy to deal with Indian pressures if the militant groups are given a free hand in Pakistan? Unless Pakistan’s internal and external security profile, especially the terrorist threat, remains as it is, no professional team can rescue Pakistan’s economy in two years.
According to the Constitution, the armed forces are under the “direction” and “command” of the federal government and their “supreme command” rests with the president. Article 190 directs all “executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan” to “act in aid of the Supreme Court.” Though military is not mentioned here, it is covered under executive and a Supreme Court judgment in 1999 subsumes that.
The key issue is should the chief justice directly seek the support of the army chief rather than going through the president, for implementation of the court order. If the chief justice directly approaches the army chief, should the army chief make the decision by himself to use the army machinery against the federal government, prime minister or the president when he is constitutionally bound to seek the direction of the president and the federal government?
In November 1997, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah wrote a letter to the President of Pakistan asking him under Article 190 of the Constitution to “take necessary steps to provide security cover of army or paramilitary forces in the Supreme Court building and also at the residence of the chief justice and other judges….” A copy of this letter was sent to the Army Chief General Jehangir Karamat. Chief Justice Shah neither directly asked the army chief to provide security nor sought his support for implementation of any court order. The army chief sent the letter to the Ministry of Defence and sought instructions from the president on this matter. The president did not give any direction to the army chief and the matter ended there.
The army top brass need to take a long term view of the situation. Do they want to directly get into the troubled swamp of Pakistani politics at a time when they are engaged in fighting an unconventional war against the terrorists and face external security and diplomatic pressures? The army will lose the domestic political support from the PPP and the ANP for their efforts to control terrorism after taking action against the federal government. The political parties and groups that want the army to move against the federal government do not support the military’s counter-terrorism operations. Thus, the army’s counter-terrorism role will be greatly hindered if it gets into the business of settling political differences.
Further, the opposition parties will be very happy if the PPP-led federal government is knocked out. However, they will not sit quietly if they learn that they will lose power in the provinces or there is plan to keep them out for a couple of years and the new military-Supreme Court backed government will attempt to contain their future political role. Such a regime may get support from the political groups that have no hope of winning any election. Islamic groups will support the change if Pakistan withdraws from the war against terrorism.
Pakistan has a long history of constitutional deviations that failed to address long term socio-economic problems. Another deviation may be under consideration by some quarters in Islamabad. What is the guarantee that it will be successful this time? The elected executive and non-elected superior judiciary should work towards balancing the imperatives of judicial activism with the executive’s prerogatives. Let the troubled democracy limp towards the general elections within the constitutional framework rather than engaging in political adventurism. There is no short cut to stability and economic development.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.