Recently, Pakistan Senate Chairman, Raza Rabbani, proposed that there should be a dialogue among key state institutions so that all institutions work within their constitutional mandate. The obvious aim of the proposed debate is to end the political crisis in the country.
Raza Rabbani reportedly got verbal approval from Senators to invite representatives of the judiciary, military and executive to the parliament for a dialogue. It may be mentioned here, that in Pakistan the executive is part of the parliament so executive and parliament overlap to a degree. In order to give practical shape to the proposal, Rabbani would be approaching the military through the prime minister and the judiciary directly. If the dialogue does take place it would be unprecedented. The proposal for an inter-institutional dialogue from Chairman Rabbani came in the wake of the debate in the Senate on “Post-Panama Papers verdict, political situation and the way forward – role of parliament.” The debate on the issue ended without any concrete outcome, prompting the chairman to put forward his proposal of an inter-institutional dialogue before reading the prorogation order.
Prima facie the proposal from Chairman Rabbani for a dialogue among key state institutions is very important. However, the more pertinent questions in this regard are that whether the dialogue could be held, what would be the outcome and how the recommendations, if any, of the dialogue could be enforced. Insofar as the taking place of the dialogue is concerned, one does not think that it could happen. Because the key institutions of the judiciary and the military would not be willing to take part in such a dialogue. There is a very concrete reason for these institutions to refuse to be part of the proposed inter-institutional dialogue; how in the presence of the constitution could they participate in such a dialogue? Because the constitution of Pakistan very clearly determines the mandate of each state institution and clearly prohibits the encroachment of the domain and powers of one state institution by another state institution. In the presence of the constitution and its relevant provisions dealing with the mandate of various state institutions the participation of the military and judiciary in an inter-institutional dialogue regarding their domains and powers does not make sense. Moreover, the dialogue, if it does take place would give rise to more controversies than solving any. The state of the union, the structure and nature of Pakistani federalism and the strength of political stability in Pakistan, so weak because the political sphere in the country is so polarized, that any inter-institutional dialogue would open a Pandora’s Box of controversies which the state and its institutions may not be able to address. Keeping this in view, and to avoid unnecessary controversies the military and judiciary would not be convinced of an inter-institutional dialogue. Against this backdrop the idea of such a dialogue seems to be stillborn.
Regarding the need for an inter-institutional dialogue one can argue that after the landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Panama case involving former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, and which resulted in the disqualification of Sharif for not being honest and truthful, the strength of our state institutions, arguably, for the first time has been demonstrated. In other words, for the first time one could see that a powerful ruling junta has been held accountable by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising senior civil servants and the Supreme Court of Pakistan and there has not been any need of a military takeover or coup to send a corrupt and decadent dispensation packing. Previously in Pakistan, military juntas overthrew elected governments on the pretext or premise that the deposed regime was corrupt. This time the SCP of Pakistan decided the case when a strong opposition party brought a petition before the court to disqualify the prime minister for indulging in corrupt practices, including money laundering unearthed by an international consortium of investigative journalists. Against this backdrop the proposing of an inter-institutional dialogue by Senator Rabbani himself not only raises many questions, but many eyebrows.
The problem with the ruling party the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) whom together have ruled the country for most of the time since 1998, is the belief that certain state institutions have been conspiring against the democratic set-up in the country. Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif has time and again made such remarks while it has been the unending argument of the PPP in the past. However, Nawaz has shied away from revealing the names of the institution(s) or any of their personnel who have been conspiring against the elected dispensation. Nevertheless, keeping in view the strained relations of the executive with the military and its estrangement from the judiciary, for giving a decision on merit, it is not difficult to conclude from the statements of the ousted prime minister that he is alluding to the military and judiciary. In fact, in the recently submitted review petition in the SCP, the Sharif family has charged the SCP bench, which disqualified Nawaz Sharif, with overstepping its constitutional mandate. Against this backdrop, calling for an inter-institutional dialogue is tantamount to suggesting that certain institutions have overstepped their constitutional mandate. This forecloses the participation of the representatives of the judiciary and military in the proposed inter-institutional dialogue.
The fact of the matter is that any number and length of dialogues among state institutions and within state institutions would not be able to enforce different institutions to remain within their domain. Because who is going to enforce or implement the recommendations of such a dialogue if the constitution of the state cannot be enforced in letter and spirit? Rather, the time-tested formula of checks and balances between state institutions is the only solution. We in Pakistan are fortunate and must be highly indebted to our judiciary and SCP that they have meaningfully and practically demonstrated this check on the executive and disqualified a sitting prime minister, and not a government. This would go a long way in strengthening our institutions, giving the much-needed freedom to the civil servants to act in accordance with law and the constitution, instead of according to the will of the government of the time. Now all those who have been engaged in corrupt practices would hopefully be taken to task and this would herald in the beginning of political and social stability in the country.