Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sense of direction

With JUI (F), MQM, and PML (Q) once again out to test their gamesmanship, and ANP, PML (N), the Army, and the political-religious parties outside waiting in the wings, it seems Pakistan is all set to brace for another bout of political crisis - leaving us the people bewildered what the hell is the direction they are all moving Pakistan into!

That there is no sense of direction in what is happening or cooking to happen is not far from the truth. An 18th Amendment, a 7th NFC Award, autonomous status for Gilgit-Baltistan, or the Reconciliation mantra appear like in-connectible jots on a maze of unattended urgencies.

This is an attempt to refresh memories of us all, especially the politicians and the Armymen, with the sense of direction reached in 1973.

A constitution is never a political document. It is not to be used, or manipulated politically. Nor is it for the politicians to amend or suspend at their will. At best, a constitution is a theory of conduct both for individuals and institutions. In this sense, it is a moral document. Taking it otherwise is fatal to the soul of a constitution.

Thus, if a constitution is used and manipulated for political purposes, its moral tenor is lost. Likewise, if a constitution is amended and suspended at will, it is reduced into a political statement. This is the case in Pakistan.

Historically, in the sub-continent Muslim and Hindu communities’ leaders could not agree on a theory of conduct to rule their people. That constitutional failure led to the making of Pakistan and India.

In Pakistan, again its leaders proved they lacked moral insight and could not reach a theory of conduct. Instead, they continued fighting for political interests. So much so that in 1971, the chronic fighting of individuals and institutions dashing all the hopes to reach an agreed theory of conduct to rule both the wings finally resulted in the formation of another country out of Pakistan.

The period from 1947 onward witnessed ‘constitutional’ anarchy let loose. After about fourth of a century and an unhappy separation of half the Pakistan, the rest of the country came to have a Constitution in 1973. In this case, it was always late to mend.

But, the ruling party that gave (West) Pakistan a Constitution is the very party that disfigured the same constitution most. The constitution that was adopted on April 12, 1973, from May 8, 1974 to January 4, 1977, underwent seven amendments, six by the same assembly and the seventh by the next short-lived assembly of the same party. Obviously, from the very start the constitution could not achieve the status of a moral document and a theory of conduct as well. The acts belied the intentions.

Then, there was the Army, an all powerful institution, which never subscribed to any theory of conduct whatsoever. They created a moral vacuum in the country. The greatest damage they caused to this nation is not through the suspension or partial/total abrogation of the constitution; it’s the destruction of moral and social values. They are the perfect immoralists.

After them, it was leaders of the political parties who used their parties as pressure groups to achieve their motives. They were the political agents of various Pakistani elites who were out-and-out immoralists. They used the constitution to further their political and elitist interests.

Another party to this crusade against the constitution was the judiciary. They were the thoroughgoing immoralists and champions of a new theory of misconduct. For them, under necessity everything could be validated. No theory of conduct or no moral code could stop them from fulfilling the demands of the immoralists. The moral document was immorally brutalized by its very custodians.

However, with the emergence of an independent judiciary, supremacy of the constitution, rule of law, and fundamental rights were dug up and started to be upheld. Not only the theory of conduct but the code of conduct also became a matter of everybody’s concern. Somehow, if that awakened a civil society from its “directionless” slumber, on the one hand, on the other it did resuscitate the moral conscience of the people also.

Many a coalition made and broke after the February 2008 elections. These or any other coalitions are not an end in-themselves. What matters is whether this practice strengthens the constitution or weakens it as a moral statement. If a coalition breaks down such as the recent one, quitting of the JUI (F) from the government, there is little for the constitution to gain. In fact, all such moves trash the constitution into political triviality.

Though, the rule of law movement set the constitution of Pakistan to emerge as a moral document embodying a theory of conduct for all individuals and institutions strictly to follow, but no political party or no state institution and especially the Army sees it as such. Old habits die hard!

In view of this sense of a direction, the conduct of political parties and the Army is going to decide the fate of the constitution as a moral document is a misreading. It is for them to realize that it is the constitution which is going to decide their fate in the long run. Willy-nilly they will have to revert to the constitution as a moral document to compass their sense of direction if they want to survive. Their politics should have to be subservient to the theory of conduct the constitution represents.

The last three decades, especially, of trampling the constitution by the civilian and military usurpers prove that politics without a theory of conduct and without a moral code is worse than robbery and murder, and more than what was condoned under the National Reconciliation Ordinance. Hence, in order to prove their worth, political parties and the Army must check with their political sense of direction. Otherwise, they are in a moral vacuum and may meet moral death!

Note: This article was completed in December 2010.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is keeping assets abroad criminal?

This April a bill was submitted in the National Assembly which is yet another attempt to make the citizens of Pakistan "loyal" to it. The bill seeks to amend the Article 63 of the Constitution – an article that sets the criteria for the members of parliament and provincial assemblies. The bill requires that any person who holds dual nationality and owns bank accounts and assets in countries other than Pakistan will not be able to be a member of the parliament and provincial assemblies as well as public service, both civil and military. It ensued from the womb of Muslim League (Q). Leaving aside the doubts whether it is part of a political ploy or a trick of political blackmailing, the bill needs to be examined on its merits.

This article does not aim to dwell on the issue of dual nationality. The same restriction already existed in the Constitution, though the bill means to extend it to the public office holders also. As far as politicians' (and public officials') ownership of and keeping their wealth in foreign countries is concerned, the media and patriot lobby has since long been there manufacturing the public opinion against it. In fact, such matters came to fore mostly during the military dictatorships when politicians were especially made a target of political victimization. The argument put forward said the loyalty of the leaders to their country who own assets in foreign lands is precarious. Nonetheless, this class of doubtful loyalty with Pakistan has lately come to include generals, judges, and other high-profile officials. The bill does not make a target only of the politicians which had been the common practice in cases of such legislation in the past. 

It is as simple as that – if an ordinary citizen, or a public office holder, or an elected representative owns assets in any other country where he abides by the laws of that country and pays taxes duly, and back home also, then keeping accounts and assets there is his legal and constitutional right. In that case, he cannot be barred from being a member of any elected body and joining public office. Innumerable Pakistanis are already present in foreign countries' elected bodies and public institutions and own assets in both countries of their nationality. For that matter, in Pakistan probably very few citizens of other countries would be found in our elected bodies and public institutions! Doesn't this bill invite other countries to go for a legislation of the same ilk? 

Furthermore, if an elected representative or a public office holder uses his wealth in this or that country in an unbecoming manner and for illegal purposes, such laws already exist which deal with this wrong-doing. As the bill assumes that after its enactment politicians will be discouraged from indulging in corruption, or will not be able to escape political vengeance or legal action rightly or wrongly initiated against them, the same is just a figment. The fact is that many countries have bilateral or multilateral agreements on the extradition of alleged criminals. Also, in addition to the governments of other countries and their powerful elite classes, the relatives, friends and acquaintances of 'victimized' politicians and public office holders will be more than welcoming to them in having them as their 'pricey' guests. The reason for this investment is obvious: the prospects of going up of the value of such "assets," both in political and financial terms, will be hundredfold! 

In its essence, the bill questions the loyalty of elected representatives and public office holders to their country, and as proof of that loyalty instead of demanding from them, it by imposing legal constitutional restriction on them tries to force them from having and keeping their accounts and assets in foreign countries. Is holding accounts, owning property, doing business, and keeping assets abroad a crime? There is no such bar in the Constitution of the country. Then, why should there be such a bar on the elected representatives and public office holders? Does that specific status of theirs deprive them of their natural and fundamental constitutional rights? Will, by putting such a bar on them, they be more loyal to the country? Will, by putting this restriction, their patriotism be increased manifold? 

The factors which strengthen love and loyalty to one's country have nothing to do with such legal and constitutional restrictions. Instead of focusing on those factors, the bill diverts attention from them. In sum, in a time of extreme insecurity, forgoing the need of securing the protection of life, and security of rights and rightly earned wealth and property of its citizens, wherever in this world they own it, the bill seeks to put a narrow-minded and altogether unintelligible restriction on the citizens of Pakistan – the present and would-be elected representatives and public office holders. 

Without any fear of exaggeration, it may be surmised that the bill seems to be ringing the bells of/for another Martial Law! 

Note: This article was completed in August 2011.