Descent into chaos – 12 May 2023

The Friday Column

By Raoof Hasan

The brutal and barbaric manner Imran Khan was arrested is a reprehensible act which would forever remain beyond the realm of lawful and decent description.

It is not a case of arresting an individual, and that too a former prime minister. It is a case of daylight abduction of Khan from the court premises. In the process, he was grossly manhandled by paramilitary troops with fisted shoves, pushes and hits to the body and head which is a cause of deep concern for his followers, and an extremely demeaning spectacle for the state and its institutions.

Khan’s arrest is a reflection of how deeply insanity has penetrated the thinking faculties of the criminal conglomerate. He has since been remanded to NAB custody for eight days. This evoked widespread and spontaneous response from his passionate followers throughout the country who took to the streets targeting the interests of all they thought were responsible for the grievous situation. The sentiments were further inflamed when authorities decided to fire directly into the protesters resulting in over fifteen deaths with scores injured, some critically, who are under treatment at various hospitals.

A cloud of terror hangs over the entire country with midnight assaults conducted on the homes of PTI leaders and workers who have all been taken into custody with their crimes unstated and their whereabouts mostly unknown. These assaults continue unabated. There are reports of maltreatment inflicted upon those arrested including scores of women workers and activists. Access to justice is completely denied and reports are circulating that this is all going to get worse. Simultaneously, the army has been called out in Islamabad and in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

This is what the country has been reduced to since the removal of Khan’s government and the launch of a three-pronged strategy to neutralize him, encompassing targeting his political mass, eliminating him physically and having him disqualified on fake charges and his party banned. Having failed miserably in denting his ever-increasing political stature, an assassination attempt was engineered which he miraculously escaped with bullets in his leg. Khan remained under treatment for months and is still not fully recovered from the attack.

With his popularity surging phenomenally, the third component of the strategy was resorted to with over 150 cases registered against him throughout the country based on false and flimsy accusations. He has since been appearing before courts on a regular basis. But his freedom was not acceptable to the planners and perpetrators of the Eliminate Khan Project, so they resorted to kidnapping him from the Islamabad High Court premises when he had travelled there regarding his bail application and is now in police custody at an undisclosed location which, by itself, is a violation of the basic human rights accorded by the constitution of the state.

Let’s have a look at the dynamics of what has plunged us into this mess. After the dissolution of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, elections were to be held in 90 days. This has not been done because the government is unwilling to follow the constitutional path and would instead like to script its own. In the process, it has refused to accept the Supreme Court directive and has galvanised a truncated, and potentially unconstitutional and irrelevant parliament to confront the judiciary. The underlying narrative is that, despite appropriate powers vested in the judiciary, it will not accept the apex court adjudications in the matter.

On its part, the Supreme Court has ordered the government on two different occasions to hold elections on dates specified by it. While the first one has already lapsed without any heed, the second is for elections to be held on May 14, an order which now looks improbable to be implemented. The constitutional powers of the apex court have, therefore, been challenged and its orders violated.

The parleys between the government and PTI representatives have not yielded any results. While there was a general understanding on the need for holding elections on the same day throughout the country, the government has shown no flexibility to change its position on advancing the dates of dissolution of the remaining assemblies and holding elections. It remains fixated on doing so in October to which the PTI is not agreeable, thus leading to a stalemate.

With the constitutional powers of the apex court having been challenged and its orders violated, wilful efforts are underway to ignite confrontation among two key pillars of the state: parliament and judiciary. With the former taking a position contrary to constitutional edicts and the latter seemingly determined to enforce what is contained in the statute book, this confrontation could assume an ugly form threatening the established concept of trichotomy of powers.

The key question which arises is that in case this confrontation spills over to adversely impact the implementation of the apex court order, what will happen in the context of Article 190 which states that “all executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan shall act in aid of the Supreme Court”. Will the court be able to exercise its constitutionally mandated authority to have its order executed?

The worrying factor is that if the apex court is not able to do so, parliament and the judiciary will be lined up against each other. This conflict assumes an even more dangerous dimension in the context of the ongoing agitation in the wake of Khan’s arrest. Will a constitutional matter be ultimately settled on the streets with violence as an extremely probable outcome?

If this confrontation takes shape, it will pave the way for the making of a pariah state. With the constitutionally provisioned distribution of powers among state pillars having been violated by the government, Pakistan will be reduced to a state without legitimate instruments to guide it forward. It will then be for each pillar to give its own guidelines with the country trying to navigate through mutually conflicting directives. Notwithstanding the unconstitutional manner the Khan government was removed, what is the dire need to cultivate this crisis, and why is the government so inflexible that it is casting serious doubts about the sustainability of the country itself?

All power springs from the constitution with parliament enacting laws, the judiciary interpreting them and the executive enforcing them. With clear demarcation of powers among the pillars in place, a violation thereof will spell disaster for all.

Amidst hollow clamours of calm, we seem to be caught up in a spiral of shame with shadows of terror likely to become the cast of doom, holding the country in its stranglehold. Imran Khan’s arrest is only going to accelerate this descent into chaos. It will haunt the perpetrators with no end in sight.

The writer is a political andsecurity strategist, former special assistant to former PM Imran Khan, and currently a fellow at King’s College London. He tweets @RaoofHasan

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