Provoking complete demolition of ‘democratic system’

Sincerely wish that I proved totally wrong when you read this column. Yet, I felt forced to start writing it, immediately after Iftar Saturday evening. What motivated the rush were strong signals leading me to develop suspicions that Prime Minister Imran Khan was still not willing to let the National Assembly vote on the motion of no-confidence, posted against him on March 8, 2008.

Cunningly invoking Article 5 of our Constitution, Fawad Chaudhry, the information-cum-law minister, had convinced Qasim Suri, the deputy speaker, to “reject” the said motion on April 3, when the head count was expected on it.

Immediately after Suri’s decision, the Prime Minister asked the President to announce dissolution of the House, Imran Khan had been heading since August 2018. And Arif Alvi obliged instantly.

The Supreme Court didn’t feel comfortable over the fast track demolition of an elected house, visibly choreographed by some unelected advisors of the Prime Minister. At the end of day-to-day hearings, the apex court finally overturned the decisions made in haste. It also directed the Speaker National Assembly to hold a sitting of the House Saturday morning, with the specific intent of voting on the no confidence motion pending against the Prime Minister.


The Supreme Court’s decision quickly bared the frightening sides of a deeply polarized society. While anti-Imran sections welcomed it with jubilant hearts, the Prime Minister and his diehard supporters considered the same as breaching “sovereignty of Parliament.” At the same time, though, the Prime Minister and his aides kept pretending as if they were willing to swallow the bitter pill. By summoning the National Assembly session on Saturday morning, the government looked to furnish submissive execution of the Supreme Court’s decision.


For the first time in recent history, the National Assembly started its proceedings at the given time, 10:30am. After opening rites, the Speaker promised to implement the Supreme Court’s decision of Thursday “in letter and spirit” and granted the floor to Shah Mahmood Qureshi.


The Foreign Minister took more than 25 minutes to hype the case that disregarding the deep and old disagreements among them, the opposition parties had ganged up to remove Imran Khan by posting a no confidence motion against him. The “sudden unity” among them intriguingly coincided with a meeting that an Under Secretary of the US State Department had with our Ambassador in Washington on March 7, 2022.


He kept drumming the story that during the said meeting, the US government conveyed its arrogant annoyance with Imran Khan. Washington felt doubly furious over his visit to Moscow, a day before the Russian attack on Ukraine. He repeated the claim that through a cipher communication, our ambassador in Washington had described the said meeting as “threatening”. It was also used to communicate the message that the US relations with Pakistan could only turn “normal,” if Imran Khan’s removal from the Prime Minister’s office was managed through a motion of no confidence put against him in the national assembly. In short, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister continued projecting the no confidence motion against Imran Khan as deeply connected to alleged American desire for “the regime change” in Pakistan.


When he seemed determined to drag on the same theme, Shehbaz Sharif, the opposition leader, politely took the floor on a point of order to remind the Speaker that he should rush to the count on no-confidence motion. For no valid reason, the Speaker presumed that the opposition leader was perhaps trying to ignite bedlam in the House and he adjourned the sitting “until 12:30.”


The unjustified recess, the Speaker had enforced upon the house made many reporters overcrowding the press gallery Saturday that Asad Qaiser was acting upon a plan to defer voting on the no-confidence motion by employing all means, fair or foul.


The opposition felt the same and its top leaders rushed to the Speaker’s Chambers. They took a long to persuade him that he must ensure implementation of the Supreme Court’s orders. Asad Qaisar continued playing hard to get and tried assuaging the opposition with ambiguous promises.


Meanwhile, I found it from highly reliable sources that some senior ministers of the Imran government remained in active contact with some opposition leaders, until fairly late in the night of Friday. The sources, I usually trust, also revealed after being promised anonymity that Imran Khan had no objections to having a vote on the no-confidence motion. But he didn’t want to be replaced by Shehbaz Sharif, who he considered “corrupt to the core.”


At least one federal minister, known for enjoying active access to Imran Khan, implicitly confirmed the said story by worriedly reporting: “we have been trying to persuade Bilawal Bhutto Zardari that if he was really sincere to protect democracy, he should present himself as the replacement of Imran Khan, instead of Shehbaz Sharif.


During his briefest intervention, Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N passed certain remarks that provided confirmation to these rumours, eagerly being discussed in parliamentary corridors.


Asif Ali Zardari is not known as an articulate speaker. But the brief speech he delivered Saturday brilliantly telegraphed an ominous message. After delivering the same in guarded words, he kept pressing for developing consensus by adopting an approach that led the nation to reconciliation. But to reach there, he also demanded that voting must be held on the no-confidence motion pending against the prime minister. In spite of displaying the appeasing messages to many in the PTI, he was still not willing to strike any deal with “one person,” i.e., Imran Khan.


Meanwhile, the Speaker let Amjad Khan Niazi to preside over the House for sometimes. Sitting in the presiding chair, he kept referring to article 69 of the constitution, which to him ensured parliament’s autonomy and supremacy. He also read the oath members of the National Assembly have to read after being elected to the House. It binds them to “protect the Constitution.”


Asad Umar, an old confidant of Imran Khan, also focused his speech to stress upon “territorial divisions” among three pillars of the state: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.” After remarks passed by Niazi, the speech of Mr Umar forced the majority of parliamentary reporters to instinctively feel that the Imran government was yet not willing to have voting on the no-confidence motion.


It was still adamant that if Imran Khan had to be removed, Shehbaz Sharif must not replace him. Some ministers also kept telling some journalists “on the record” that the Imran government could just not surrender itself before “looters and plunderers,” and is willing to pay any price to block their return to power. Gradually, it became almost obvious that the government had made up its mind to face consequences of not executing Thursday’s order of the Supreme Court.


To make things doubly ominous and baffling, Imran Khan also summoned the “federal cabinet” to meet at 9:00pm. That conveyed the loud message that it was yet not ready for the voting on no-confidence motion to happen, at least Saturday. Although seemed pushed to an extremely tight and risky corner, Imran Khan looked visibly determined to extract a compromising deal from the opposition parties, before letting the vote happen on no-confidence motion. And if they don’t concede he wouldn’t mind provoking complete demolition of the so-called ‘democratic system’ by extra-parliamentary forces and institutions.


ePaper - Nawaiwaqt