One wonders if there are any left
After years of military rule, Burma is moving towards democracy. Ms Aung San Suu kyi the bold and valiant activist went to see the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Min Aung Hlaing. During the conversation the General reminded her that the Army will remain the defender of the constitution. This statement triggered a question in my mind:
“Who is the defender of our constitution?”
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s constitution has a checkered history. It took the founding fathers nine years (1956) to formulate the first constitution. In 1958 Ayub Khan abrogated the document and imposed martial law. It took him four years (1962) to frame his ghanta ghar version which was built around him. In 1969, when the crunch time came, he lacked the courage to follow his own formulation and handed over power to the C-in-C instead of the speaker of the National Assembly. Yahya Khan then abrogated the constitution and held elections for a constituent assembly which was then tasked to frame a new constitution within 120 days. The establishment was hoping a split mandate to enhance their grip over power but the electorate proved smarter. Mujib’s Awami League and Bhutto’s Peoples party won big in the two wings of the country (160/162, 81/138). Both parties campaigned on an anti-establishment agenda of change and carried the day. The rest is history: Quaid’s Pakistan was dismembered and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) was inducted as the Martial Law Administrator of what was left of the motherland.
Facing legal hitches ZAB had to promulgate an interim constitution in 1972 under which he took oath as President. Party stalwarts and legal wizards like Mahmud Ali Kasuri, Abdul Hafiz Pirzada were tasked to prepare a unanimous new version which was approved by the national assembly on April 10,1973 and signed into law on April 12,1973 and then finally promulgated on August 14, 1973 – after which the country took the name of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Perhaps ours is the only country with four constitutions and multiple amendments at the will of dictators, tyrants and their tail coats. The main reason behind this desecration of the agreement between the rulers and the ruled is the lack of defense of this fundamental document.
Zia-ul-Haq had the audacity to ask “What is a constitution? It is just a fourteen page document that I can tear away and trash.” Then, the enlightened General Pervez Musharraf remarked “what is more important, the constitution or the country? In order to save the constitution one cannot destroy the country.” Then I hear all kinds of opinions that we need a new constitution or democracy is not suitable for us but no one ever shows resolve to defend or implement this document.
In October 1958 when Ayub Khan abrogated the first constitution Aftab Ahmed Khan – a senior Indian Civil Service officer – had the courage to write a lengthy letter to the dictator. Aftab Sahib had served as Chief Secretary East Pakistan and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Suharwardy. He had sensed the resentment amongst the Bengali population and urged Ayub to return to the barracks for the sake of unity of the country. He was arrested on sedation charges and was tried by a military court. It was a perfect example of topsy turvy or ‘ulti-fitting’. One who was trying to save the federation was in jail while the tyrant who was stoking the break-up of the country was being eulogized as a saviour.
Instead of defending the rule of law, Justice Muhammed Munir the Kazi justified the martial law under the law of necessity. Anwar-ul-Haq applied the same doctrine in case of Zia’s take over but did not give him the power to amend the constitution. Supreme Court went a step further in case of Musharraf, and allowed him to amend the constitution at will.
Clause 25-A of the constitution had declared literacy a right of the citizen which was to be achieved by 1985. Zia removed the time deadline replacing it with; ‘within reasonable time’ – which meant never. Then Musharraf in connivance with the Chaudri’s of Gujrat tried to pull the biggest stunt of civilized history to get elected in uniform – the biggest insult to the nation and its constitution. The civil society came on the streets with the lawyers, and the fourth dictator was toppled.
From a graduating cadet at Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) to the Chief Justice, President and Prime Minister, one line is common in their oath of duty.
“…That I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”
Which Siasi, Khaki, Kazi or Baboo has honoured this undertaking? Please identify yourselves. I can count only a few names on my fingertips – the rest have not lived up to this expectation. As a student of management I have been taught that no document should be changed unless it has been implemented. Only through compliance, improvements can be driven. We don’t need a new constitution unless we fully implement what we have. All ad hoc dictatorial amendments should be declared void. As a nation we must stand up for our constitution and demand its complete implementation. We have been failed by the Siasis, Khakis, Kazis and Baboos, it is time that our youth to stand up and be counted as defenders of the constitution. No country can be governed without this document. For your future and those of our coming generations defend and implement this article of faith this is my appeal to the young on the Constitution day which is being celebrated on April 12, 2016.
The writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation [email protected]