The Supreme Court by its order has definitely restored some faith in its ability to protect the constitution in Pakistan, but at the same time has also ushered in an era of turbulence that could have an impact beyond Pakistan’s borders
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has finally restored the National Assembly after declaring the Deputy Speaker’s ruling given on the No-Confidence Motion as unconstitutional. On 3 April, when all eyes were fixed on the National Assembly in Islamabad, where voting on the motion brought in by the combined Opposition was in progress, the government sprang a surprise when Fawad Chaudhry, who had just taken over as the law minister, after Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) appointee Farogh Naseem resigned after his party parted way with Imran Khan, made a statement alleging that the no-confidence motion was being brought in at the behest of external powers to destabilise Pakistan. Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who was chairing the session, immediately rejected the no-confidence resolution and prorogued the parliament.
The ruling party members thereafter trooped out of the parliament, but the stunned Opposition kept sitting in the House and subsequently passed the no-confidence motion against the government with 194 members supporting it. Prime Minister Imran Khan, knowing the plot, had not come to the National Assembly; he immediately went on air, addressed the nation and advised the president to dissolve the assembly.
President Arif Alvi followed suit and ordered elections within 90 days. Rapid developments forced the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the developments and the Supreme Court issued notice to all concerned to appear before a five-member bench. The Pakistan Army, the most powerful institution, officially claimed that it had nothing to do with the political developments, although it was being speculated that the no-confidence motion had its tacit support.
After hearing for four days, during which there were speculations that the Supreme Court might allow the elections to be held and allow the dissolution under ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, it finally delivered the judgement that is probably based on the advice rendered by the GHQ in Rawalpindi. The judgement has no doubt strengthened the constitutional process in Pakistan, where the judiciary has in the past justified military coups and other illegal actions under the Doctrine of Necessity.
The court ordered the assembly to be convened on Saturday, 9 April, for voting on ‘no-confidence motion’. Barring some last-minute miracle, it will also mark the end of Imran Khan’s government. This would, however, usher in a new round of instability, as Imran Khan has by and large succeeded in convincing the gullible masses that there is an American conspiracy to topple his government for pursuing an independent foreign policy in pursuit of Pakistan’s national interests. This surge in popular support, which was clearly evident in the results of the second round of local bodies elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), was the reason why Imran Khan wanted to dissolve the assembly and go in for elections.
Imran Khan is likely to utilise the time available to further enhance his popularity by addressing the nation and playing the victim card, while accusing the Opposition of sacrificing the national interests for monetary gains. Consequently, there is bound to be protests on the streets once Imran Khan’s government falls, especially in Punjab, KPK and Karachi, where PTI has a significant support base.
There is no doubt that some of the government schemes have endeared him to the relatively not too well-off sections of the society, which have benefitted from various social security schemes like ‘Sehat Card’. The developments in the National Assembly are likely to be replicated in the Punjab Assembly, where again the PTI-dominated government is likely to give way to one dominated by the PML(N).
However, the political dispensation that would succeed Imran’s regime, is unlikely to be stable, as it comprises diverse political groups with conflicting political interests, which have come together (or have been brought together) only to bring down Imran Khan’s government. They may start bickering as soon as the objective is achieved. This could further complicate Pakistan’s already precarious economic situation, where foreign exchange reserves are depleting fast and the country urgently needs to negotiate with the IMF to shore up its reserves and adopt some tough economic measures.
Unfortunately, a lame-duck coalition government that is going to face elections next year is extremely unlikely to do so. The resultant economic distress is likely to further weaken the state institutions and the establishment’s ability to support its proxy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The resultant chaos could further provide a fillip to radical forces in Pakistan like the TTP and ISIS. There are already clear signs of the resurgence of TTP which has received a huge ideological boost with the recent developments in Afghanistan. There is also an ideological affinity between the supporters of Imran Khan and the radical Right in Pakistan. So, one could see some spurt in the acts of terrorism in Pakistan, which could spill even across the borders. On the other side, internal chaos and financial mess would curtail the ISI’s ability to launch cross border operations.
The Supreme Court by its order has definitely restored some faith in its ability to protect the constitution in Pakistan, but at the same time has also ushered in an era of turbulence that could have an impact beyond Pakistan’s borders.
The author is Director, India Foundation. The views expressed are personal.