As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek launched this August 14 their “Azadi March” and “Inqilab March” respectively, and then undertook the Sit-Ins (Dharnas) in Islamabad; day by day it was increasingly perceived as a deadly threat to political constitutional set-up prevailing in the country. With worsening law and order situation in the capital including the fears of occupation of state buildings by the marchers, the fear of military intervention loomed large on the political horizon. However, in the face of it something very surprising took place: All the political parties sitting in the parliament reposed and reiterated their complete confidence in the current political set-up, including the government, rejected the marchers’ calls for prime minister’s resignation, dissolution of national and provincial assemblies, and holding of mid-term elections. More to it, bar associations and civil society organizations throughout the country supported the cause of the continuation of the current political constitutional set-up. Finally the Supreme Court also judged that all the institutions and authorities of the state must work remaining within their constitutional domains.
That’s unprecedented for the long checkered polity of Pakistan. Somehow all the political elements, except the protesting ones, out of which the PAT has no representation in the parliament, have put their weight on the side of the constitution ruling out any military adventure. Symbolically, it’s the victory of the Charter of Democracy, which Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan Muslim League-N) and Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan Peoples Party) signed in May 2006. However, it is strictly a political victory, which may or may not translate into something concrete for the individual citizens of Pakistan.
A look at the Charter of Democracy may reveal the political contours of the tale: It lists the following maladies that afflict Pakistan: Political crisis; Threats to its survival; Erosion of the federation's unity; Military's subordination of all state institutions; Marginalization of civil society; Mockery of the Constitution and representative institutions; Growing poverty, unemployment and inequality; Brutalization of society; Breakdown of rule of law; and, Unprecedented hardships facing our people under a military dictatorship.
After listing the afflictions, the Charter of Democracy proposed an “alternative direction” for the country characterized by the following: Economically sustainable; Socially progressive; Politically democratic and pluralist; Federally cooperative; Ideologically tolerant; Internationally respectable; Regionally peaceful; and, Resting of the sovereign right with the people to govern through their elected representatives.
In no way, anything agreed in the Charter of Democracy by the two larger political parties related to any aspect of the fundamental rights of the individual citizens of Pakistan. Revisit the Charter of Democracy and note its essential political character, which may be interpreted if not in an anti-citizen manner, necessarily not in a pro-citizen way either. Hence, what the Charter of Democracy agreed at achieving in 2006, it has achieved at this moment a substantial political part of it in 2014. Notwithstanding the fears that the rallying of the major political parties behind the demands of the constitutional rule and continuity, and against the PAT / PTI’s calls of winding up of the political system may evaporate tomorrow or day after tomorrow.
In view of the above analysis, every sane person would love to support the present constitutional political set-up and its continuation; however, at the same time he may wish it translate into the realistic availability of the fundamental rights for each and every individual. As the Supreme Court has observed (August 22): If the protesters are exercising their rights; other citizens’ too have their rights, which must not be encroached by them.
Now, it may be summed up that Charter of Democracy is half the Truth for the individual citizens; the other half of the Truth lies in another charter, a charter of individual citizen’s fundamental rights. It was this spirit in which I responded to the Charter of Democracy, and wrote a Charter of Liberty in September 2007, which sought to present a solution to the myriad problems and unimaginable sufferings faced by the ordinary people of Pakistan. The Charter of Liberty presented not only a critique of the Charter of Democracy but also offered an independent Charter of Liberty for individual citizens so that their personal freedom and fundamental rights may be secured.
In contrast to The Charter of Democracy’s Political Spirit which has manifested itself now in a constitutional consensus across the political horizon, The Charter of Liberty tries to imbibe the Individual Spirit which permeates the fundamental rights and their daily formulations in various situations. The individual citizens must rise to the occasion so that they are able to secure their personal freedom and fundamental rights against the onslaught of the unruly political elements.
Here are some of the demands, the Charter of Individual Citizens’ Fundamental Rights includes: We the individual citizens of Pakistan hold: That of all freedoms, individual freedom is of foremost importance; and that without it, all freedoms, be they political, economic, religious, etc., are useless; That without individual freedom, Pakistan can never be transformed into a virtuous society since it is individual freedom that allows people to make choices on their own and thus to be responsible for their choices and their consequences also; That the above amounts to saying that every individual citizen is endowed with certain inalienable rights such as right to life and liberty; That every individual citizen is free to pursue a life of his choice and liking until and unless he trespasses on such freedom of other individual citizen/s; That in the case of any trespassing, the trespasser, be it a citizen or a group or a political party or an institution or government itself, is to be dealt in accordance with the law.
That the inalienable rights include among other things the freedom of speech and writing, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of professing and practicing any philosophy, ideology, religion etc. and freedom of propagating it by peaceful means only; That the inalienable rights include freedom of movement, freedom of trade, freedom of business, freedom of profession, etc. That amounts to saying that the only justified function of government is to protect its citizens life, their income and property, and their rights and freedoms from those who seek to usurp them be they are local or foreign individuals, groups of individuals, political parties, or institutions or government itself.
That, if there is no rule of law, and no independent judiciary, even a parliamentary government can never come up to the expectations of its citizens, i.e. cannot protect their life, liberty and property; and, That without an independent judiciary, justice can never be accessible to each individual citizen, and a just society can never be created. Thus, through this Charter the citizens’ Fundamental Rights not only in the political realm but in daily life situations, as is happening in Islamabad and elsewhere, may also be secured.
Note: This article was completed on August 25 and was originally posted in September 2014.