August 23, 2023
ISLAMABAD – WITH the caretakers settling in, one would have expected that the fever that has lately wracked Pakistani politics would finally start receding. Instead, it appears that we may be in for a fresh bout of febrile uncertainty, thanks to continuing power struggles at the highest levels of the state.
The president on Sunday caused a major scandal when he posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he had never assented to two controversial bills seeking to amend the Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. Just a day earlier, these amendments had been [announced] as having been enacted into law.
The president’s startling disclosure triggered a furore, with analysts and commentators presenting vastly different views on its implications. As the interim government tried to deflect blame, the country faced international ridicule over the farcical manner in which it has been run as of late.
It is clear that something had been amiss at the presidency. This publication was repeatedly stonewalled by the Aiwan-i-Sadr in recent days whenever it attempted to get confirmation on which laws among the dozens passed by the 15th National Assembly in its last days had actually been given President Arif Alvi’s assent. It is unclear who was seeking to withhold this information from the public; the president’s own statement appears to suggest that he, too, was being kept in the dark.
However, it has also greatly confused many why President Alvi thought it necessary to apologise for the two laws as if their implementation was inevitable. Had he accepted them to be fait accompli? Why? Several legal experts have argued that the two bills can no longer be deemed to have been enacted, considering the president never gave them his assent. Why, then, did Mr Alvi take such an ambiguous position on the matter through his post?
There must be an independent inquiry into this matter. If any person or persons sought to ensure that these two bills were enacted regardless of what the president actually thought about them, they must be found and prosecuted. The latest is that the President’s Secretariat has called for his secretary to be replaced. This is not enough. All responsible must face exemplary punishment for subverting the legislative process. If President Alvi truly believes he was deceived, he has a responsibility to restore the sanctity of his office.
Meanwhile, the legal status of the two laws continues to be debated. While the caretaker government and several PML-N leaders have rushed to defend their enactment, the ongoing controversy boils down to the question of how the Constitution is to be correctly interpreted on the matter. While this question is resolved, the two laws, in their amended form, must not be enforced till the judiciary has had the final say.
Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2023