Saad Rasool |
The Dawn Leaks issue has fizzled out, almost as inexplicably as it arose. And, in the aftermath, a significant fraction of Pakistanis are still wondering what it was, why it became such a big deal, and how it disappeared without a whimper.
Some claim that the Army ‘surrendered’. Others speculate that some sort of a deal was struck at the highest echelons of political and military power. A fringe minority is of the opinion that ‘democratic sanity’ prevailed, ensuring that the writ of the elected government trumps that of khaki adventurists.
In any case, one thing is for certain: Nawaz Sharif has come out stronger from this 7-month standoff between the civilian and khaki leadership.
It is not ISPR’s ‘rejection’ of Prime Minister’s directives (through a tweet) that is seen as an anathema, but the withdrawal of this rejection that has people questioning the power of our institutional framework.
What, precisely, is the issue at the heart of Dawn Leaks? Why are people up in arms about it? And why is there such despondency, now that the Army has stepped back from the brink?
Read more: Dawn leaks and ISPR’s sensible move
Everyone is all too aware of the history of Dawn Leaks, and how one story, authored by Cyril Almeida, sparked a row between our civilian and military leadership, threatening to desecrate the entire constitutional paradigm. However, it is not so much the publication of this story that bothers people (and media) today. Instead, it is the manner in which heightened tension dissipated, unceremoniously, without toppling PML (N) government first. It is not ISPR’s ‘rejection’ of Prime Minister’s directives (through a tweet) that is seen as an anathema, but the withdrawal of this rejection that has people questioning the power of our institutional framework. And this sheds a revealing light on the manner in which we all view our democratic enterprise.
What does the constitution of Pakistan say?
But before delving into such socio-political issues, it is important to get the (legal) facts straight: as per the Article 243 of the Constitution the “Federal Government” has “control and command of the Armed Forces”. And, as per the Article 90 of the Constitution, “Federal Government” consists of “the Prime Minister and the Federal Ministers”. Furthermore, according to the Article 243 of the Constitution, the “Supreme Command of the Armed Forces” vests with the President of Pakistan, who is empowered “to raise and maintain the Military, Naval, and Air Forces of Pakistan” and appoint the ‘Chiefs’ of these services. Per Article 244, “every member” of the Armed Forces takes an oath to, inter alia, “uphold the Constitution”, and is bound, per Article 4, to be loyal to the State and abide by the Constitution. And finally, as per Article 245 of the Constitution, the Armed Forces are required to “defend Pakistan”, as and when necessary “under the directions of the Federal Government”.
Under the Constitution, the Army Act, 1952, also imbibes the same spirit, and places the functioning and command of Pakistan Army, under the authority of the Federal Government.
Everyone expected that the Prime Minister would have to back down in the face of Army’s tweet… and not the other way round.
Also, under something called the “Warrant of Precedence for Pakistan” – a duly issued list of protocol that describes the hierarchy and position of government officials – military leaders (including the Army Chief) are placed much behind most of the important government officials, including the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Federal Ministers, Chief Ministers, Advisors, Leaders of the House and Opposition, and even the Attorney General of Pakistan.
As a result in terms of legal authority, here is how the military hierarchy works: All of the Army (including DG ISPR) reports to the Army Chief, who reports to Chairman Joint Chiefs, who reports to Secretary Defence, who reports to Defence Minister, who reports to the Prime Minister. In other words, Prime Minister outranks the Army Chief by at least four rungs… in terms of the law, that is.
Rejection of PM’s directives despite the legal authority
Within this framework, it is inexplicable how DG ISPR, even while speaking on behalf of the services Chiefs, could find the (legal) audacity to “reject” anything said or done by the Prime Minister.
And yet, in Pakistan, everyone expected that the Prime Minister would have to back down in the face of Army’s tweet… and not the other way round.
There is no doubt that ‘rejection’ of Prime Minister’s directives, by DG ISPR, was an inconsequential act at best, and an illegal act at worse. But that is only in terms of the law. In reality, however, that episode, for just a moment, threatened to uproot the entire constitutional edifice.
In the circumstances, why did (most of) the people want Army to act against the Prime Minister and his government?
There is little cavil with the fact that Dawn Leak was not conceived and leaked by the likes of Pervez Rashid and Tariq Fatemi, without express permission by members of the ruling family.
The answer, unfortunately, is as simple as it is sad; because, after the Panama Leaks verdict, people saw Army has the last hope to oust Nawaz Sharif. What form such an ousting would take (e.g. military coup, or the Kakar formula, etc.) was irrelevant. All that mattered (to some people) was the Nawaz Sharif, who continues to slip through the crack of our judicial dispensation, must go. And the aftermath of that departure could be dealt with in due course of time. However, now, that ‘hope’ seems to have dissipated. Leaving behind a bitter after-taste, in which there is no one to blame but General Bajwa.
There can be little doubt (except in the minds of Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhary) that Nawaz Sharif and his family live beyond declared (and lawful) means, even if we cannot find legal documentation to prove the same. There is also little cavil with the fact that Dawn Leak was not conceived and leaked by the likes of Pervez Rashid and Tariq Fatemi, without express permission by members of the ruling family. Or perhaps even the fact that the PML (N)’s political machinery (helped by Khalid Ramday and Iftikhar Chaudhary) influenced the elections of 2013 in a manner that gave Nawaz Sharif his clear majority.
But none of these are reasons to invite extra-constitutional forces in order to solve our political problems. If we, as a people, cannot fix our laws, our judicial systems, or State institutions (including NAB, FBR, and the SBP), so as to implement lawful solutions to our political problems, then we deserve the sort of leadership that we have. If the elusive ‘silent majority’ will simply not turn up at the polls, once every five years, to support a candidate that appeals their conscience (as opposed to their baradari), then we must learn to make peace with the Sharifs and Zardari’s of our time.
In any case, reaching out for khaki saviors – especially in light of our checkered history – is synonymous to adding fuel to fire. And despite the itch to cling on to anything that would rid us of despotic rulers, we must resistible extra-constitutional temptations, and instead look for lasting institutional mechanisms of accountability.
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy. This piece was first published in The Nation.