Institutions crumbling? | Dawn

This article was published in Dawn on Aug 01, 2022 and is available at the following link

AS Pakistan gets ready to celebrate its 75th birthday, a range of institutions seem to have developed cracks manifesting decay that needs urgent repair.

The institutions, both state and non-state, in many developed and developing countries face similar challenges but hardly is there a country where the crumbling of various organs of state is witnessed simultaneously.

We have seen politics in the US swinging towards extremism; misuse of salaries and allowances of British parliamentarians a few years back; an Israeli prime minister facing corruption charges and being ousted; but in most of these cases other state institutions moved in, corrected the situation and the country moved forward.

We seem to be facing an assault on almost all key institutions at the same time, with the mechanism of checks and balances in disarray — and that is what is a serious cause for worry.

The judiciary is one of the most respected institutions in the country. Judges differed among themselves in the past but they never questioned the conduct and intent of their brother judges.

When was the last time two sitting judges questioned the correctness of a press release issued by the Supreme Court’s PRO authorised by the chief justice who then had the audio recording of the entire proceedings of the Judicial Commission meeting uploaded on the court’s website?

One cannot recall when one has witnessed such apparent lack of trust.

Even the verbal exchanges among the honourable judges, as one gets to hear in the audio recording, seem far from amicable.

Two judges later wrote letters to the chief justice to record their protest at, as one honourable judge put it, the undemocratic and abrupt end of the meeting. The majority of participants at the meeting seem to have disapproved the chief justice’s nominees for the five vacancies at the Supreme Court, but there is a difference of opinion among the participants as to whether the chief justice’s proposals were ‘disapproved’ or ‘deferred’.

Earlier, the majority judgement of a five-member bench of the Supreme Court delivered on May 17, 2022, had interpreted Article 63-A of the Constitution in a way that two of the judges on the bench considered it as tantamount to ‘rewriting’ the Constitution because the judgement held that the votes of the defecting legislators would not be counted, whereas there is no such provision in the Constitution.

The nine-party federal coalition government had sought a full-court hearing of the appeal against the election of Hamza Shehbaz as chief minister of Punjab because some serious points of law regarding the operation of the constitutional provisions on defection were involved and there appeared to be some lack of trust vis-à-vis the three-member bench.

However, the request for a full-bench hearing was turned down. The respondents subsequently boycotted the court proceedings and ‘rejected’ the court verdict.

We seem to be facing an assault on almost all key institutions at the same time.

The legislatures constituting the most important organ of the state are in an equally precarious situation. The former ruling party in the National Assembly, the PTI, had defied constitutional provisions regarding the vote of no-confidence in April, which fortunately the Supreme Court was able to check in time to reverse the ruling of the former deputy Speaker to disallow voting on the resolution. Since then, 125 PTI legislators have resigned and the National Assembly is operating with a token opposition.

The Punjab Assembly has been through a roller-coaster journey for the past four months, with practically no chief minister in the province.

At one stage, even the assembly split into two; the PTI and its allies convened the session in the assembly building while the PML-N held the budget session in another public building.

Earlier, the assembly had witnessed some of its ugliest scenes when members resorted to ferocious fist fighting in the assembly chamber and some MPAs physically assaulted the deputy Speaker while he chaired a sitting to hold the chief minister’s election on April 16. Although a new chief minister has taken the reins since last week, the crisis is far from over.

Political parties are facing challenges of their own. A ‘prohibited funding’ case has been pending before the ECP against the PTI — the largest political party — since 2014. A judgement may be announced any day but similar cases have also been instituted against other major political parties including the PML-N and PPP. If foreign funding is proven in these cases, it may have serious consequences, not only for the parties but also their heads who submit annual statements of accounts under oath. Recent developments in the PML-Q, where initially 10 PML-Q legislators of the Punjab Assembly voted against the ‘direction’ of party president Chaudhry Shujaat Husain, saw the Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi faction remove the party president.

Apparently, there are stresses within the executive as the division of labour sometimes seems blurred.

Recently, an ISPR press release seemed to imply that the action plan to implement FATF conditionalities to get out of its ‘grey list’ had been steered by GHQ, indicating that the civil administration was probably unable to develop a coordinated response in this purely civilian undertaking.

The prime minister’s special assistant Tariq Fatemi’s recent meeting with the US deputy secretary of state and the initial characterisation of the visit as personal by the Foreign Office indicates ineptness on the part of the FO. A call by the COAS to the US deputy secretary of state reportedly seeking the US government’s support to expedite the disbursement of IMF tranche also indicates the civilian administration’s inability to manage state affairs.

These are extraordinary times and the challenges faced by the country are huge. Pakistan had been managing its affairs in a unique fashion and the state’s overdependence on one or two state institutions over the past many years created serious issues for the growth, competence and morale of the other institutions. Serious soul-searching is required to address the grave matters.

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