Defined by a lack of coherence

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  • Ruling by ordinance is not a good thing, Mr PM. Don’t even think about it

After a singularly violent birth, Pakistan spent more than three decades under martial law, resulting from three military coups. Since then, although the spectre of martial law has never been far from reality the people of Pakistan have managed to be ruled by civilian governments — democracy, something all people everywhere deserve. The very last thing one wants to hear therefore is a prime minister who calls himself an elected representative of the people saying he would be happy to rule by presidential ordinance. That is another way of saying he wishes to bypass the parliament, aka the people.

One does not rule by such arbitrary means in a democracy, Mr PM, not unless there is an emergency or a very urgent need. It is the ruling government’s job, led by you, the prime minister, to pass legislation via parliament. If an outright majority is unavailable you must use other methods at your disposal, including putting together alliances and coalitions with opposition parties if so required.

But as an editorial in a national newspaper points out, Imran Khan appears to look down upon such methods, saying he would not seek the support of opposition parties, that he would rather push legislation through by means of ordinances. Why? Is this a display of some sort of feudal ego? And also, this is particularly odd seeing that IK is on record supporting talks with the Taliban as the only solution to insurgency. (Euronews 27 Feb 2014)

In a democracy, the party with a majority holds power only currently, a power that may at any time transfer to the opposition. To thumb one’s nose at the opposition or the parliament is to thumb one’s nose at large segments of the people of the country, when it is the people who are supreme, and who rule via parliament. Sadly, many people are unaware of this very basic fact in a country where the majority is uneducated. Imran Khan’s rhetoric is invariably aimed squarely at this very segment, banking on lack of understanding to produce the bulk of support.

What is as if not more unsettling is that Imran’s statements indicate that our new prime minister has himself very little knowledge of political science. It might explain why he vacillates pendulum-like between opposing views: supporting the Taliban being allowed to open offices in Pakistani cities (The Telegraph, 4 Feb 2018) while calling the Taliban ‘a terrorist group’ (Al Jazeera 30 July 2018).

There have been several instances of ordinances being resorted to instead of legislation throughout the history of Pakistan, but none as infamous as Ordinance XX under the dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq in 1984, which is not to be confused with the equally infamous Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan which came earlier in 1974 during the tenure of Mr Bhutto’s government. While the Second Amendment declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslim, the later Ordinance XX imposed further restrictions, barring members of the Ahmadi sect from calling themselves Muslim, claiming to practice Islam, calling their places of worship ‘mosques’ or using the Muslim call to prayer. This ordinance was in flagrant violation of a basic tenet of Pakistan’s existence which supported freedom of worship for all sects and religious groups. It led to thousands of Ahmadis being charged with violations, and a great deal of religious prosecution.

Just as the company in which a person passes his time defines him, a government is defined by the means by which it aims to rule

There were other Ordinances, such as the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance passed in 2013 which granted policing powers to the armed forces and security agencies, allowing them to arrest and detain – even indefinitely, anyone suspected of terrorism and endangering the security of Pakistan, no judicial process involved.

Just as the company in which a person passes his time defines him, a government is defined by the means by which it aims to rule. The current government does not shine by this standard if it supports such arbitrary means, which define its intellectual range. The attitude is not just foolish it is ominous because it reveals a predilection for authoritarian rule. Ordinances –Imran Khan probably does not know this – are not an enduring means of legislation since they are not meant to last beyond 120 days unless extended by parliament for a further 120 days, but no more. A government running a country by means of ordinances would have to scramble for an extension of its ordinance-based policies every four months, leaving it little time for any coherent governance. That probably explains why the first few months of the current government’s tenure are above all defined by a lack of coherence.