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The shadow of Imran Khan


According to the constitution of Pakistan, the President of Pakistan is the head of state and represents the unity of the republic.

Furthermore, in exercising his or her functions, the president acts on the advice of the cabinet (or the prime minister). The President has up to 15 days to reconsider this notice, but after the request for reconsideration, he has only 10 days to act on this notice.

Nowhere in the constitution is it mentioned that the president, if he belongs to a party, will seek the advice of the leader of his party. In fact, paragraph 1 states that the president of Pakistan, because he represents the unity of the republic, like in India, ceases to be a member of a political party when he becomes president of the republic.

But the constitution of Pakistan is followed neither in letter nor in spirit. The Prime Minister is supposed to be the most powerful person in Pakistan according to the constitution, but in reality he is the Chief of Army Staff. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has sent a summary endorsing the name of the new army chief to President Arif Alvi. Alvi refuses to follow his constitution and remains a member of the political party, PTI, of which Imran Khan is the leader.

Before approving the summary, Alvi found it necessary to go to Imran Khans to seek his assent. Such a reservation does not appear anywhere in the constitution. This indeed makes Khan, who is only the leader of the opposition, more powerful in some ways than the prime minister.

In the case of the summary of the new army chief, a happy ending has occurred. Both Alvi and Khan gave their quick assent to Lt. Gen. Asim Munir’s ascension as the new army chief. Munir was supposed to have retired on November 27, 2002, and if Alvi and Khan had delayed beyond that date, Munir might not have become the army chief.

A legal fight could have ensued between Sharif on the one hand and Alvi and Khan on the other. Where is the question for the President of the Republic to obtain the consent of the Leader of the Opposition before signing any decision?

But it is simply not Alvi and Khan who are guilty of violating the constitution. Nawaz Sharif does not hold any official position in the Pakistani government. He is the older brother of the prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, and the leader of their party, the PML-N. Asim Munir was apparently his choice as head of the army. Nawaz Sharif resides in exile in London and Shebaz Sharif visits him every two months for advice. The government is indeed not run from Islamabad, as it should be, but from London, as it should not be.

When a country violates its constitution, it becomes a banana republic. Three cases of violation have been cited here. The first is that the Speaker asks the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition on every decision. The second is that the head of the army becomes the most powerful person in the country while in the constitution he is only a government official. And the third is the Prime Minister who bows down to his brother with every decision.

Compare the situation with that of India. Here, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is obviously the most powerful figure in the country, as required by the constitution. The President of India does not belong to any party and certainly does not consult the Leader of the Opposition on every decision on the grounds that she belongs to the party of opposition leaders. And the army chief is just a government official as required by the constitution.

Yet in India too, from 2004 to 2014, it was not the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who was the most powerful person in the country, but his party leader, Sonia Gandhi. Congress ultimately suffered from this arrangement because its opposition clung to it as unconstitutional, which it clearly was.

Another such example was when Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency in 1975. At other times we have followed our constitution in letter and in spirit.

Vishnu Bhagwat was relieved of his duties as Indian Navy chief in 1998 by Prime Minister Vajpayee and Defense Minister George Fernandes. Bhagwat went to the President, KR Narayanan, who was also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, for redress. Narayanan said his hands were tied as executive power rested with the prime minister. Later, India’s Supreme Court rejected a petition by Bhagwat challenging the prime ministers’ decision. A sorry ending, but nonetheless constitutionally correct.

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