Govt encouraged by talk of constitution’s supremacy
ISLAMABAD, Nov 6: The government said on Tuesday that it was an encouraging sign for democracy that all institutions had started speaking about the supremacy of the Constitution.
When asked to comment on the statements of Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira said: “Only way forward for all of us is to follow the Constitution, and they (COAS and CJ) have only talked about holding the Constitution in high esteem.”
Talking to journalists at a ceremony held to distribute certificates among students of various institutions working under Wafaq-ul-Madaris, the minister said that unfortunately in the past the Constitution had been marginalised on various occasions, but now it was the basic reference for all institutions which should be taken as a positive development.
But in response to another question, he said: “There is no doubt that the Supreme Court is the apex court in the country, but when we talk about supremacy of an institution in the Constitution it’s only the parliament.”
Only the parliament carried the power to make and amend the Constitution. In fact, the parliament was the mother of all institutions, Mr Kaira said.
He said the government from day one had been saying that all institutions of the country should work within their constitutional domains. Dispelling a perception of a clash between state institutions, he said institutions were not built overnight and targeting them was not in the national interest.
Mr Kaira said that despite its bitter experiences, the Pakistan People’s Party had never targeted any institution. Responding to a question, he said the government would take all possible steps to promote education in the country.
Replying to another question, he said that there was no chance of delay in the elections because that would only discredit parliament and the political parties. Moreover, he said, in the presence of free media, independent judiciary and a vibrant civil society, no government could take a chance of postponing elections.
Earlier in the day, the chief of the army staff found a supporter in the chairman of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly, Nadeem Afzal Gondal, who said the army chief was fully justified in speaking on behalf of the armed forces.
“If there is some anxiety within the army, Gen Kayani as head of the institution has every right to talk about that,” said Mr Gondal when his comments on Monday’s statement of the army chief were sought. He was talking to media personnel on the sidelines of the sixth conference of the Association of Saarc Speakers and Parliamentarians being held at a hotel here.
He said that in a democracy it was the responsibility of every institution to uphold supremacy of the Constitution and this was what Gen Kayani had said. The COAS had only talked about promotion of the rule of law and Constitution, he added.
When asked as if media was the only target of the COAS speech as pointed out by some commentators, Mr Gondal said: “I don’t think so. Gen Kayani has also asked others to work within the limits of law and the Constitution.”
He also endorsed Gen Kayani’s statement that no single institution should be the sole arbiters of the national interest. The PAC chairman was of the view that parliament should send a similar message that all state organs should work within their roles defined in the Constitution. He also spoke against what he said media trial of the army.
Media should avoid targeting the army, he added.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, Mr Gondal was the one who had headed a special parliamentary committee which investigated the railways land scam and held three retired generals responsible for violating government rules in leasing out 150 acres of land to a private party to set up a golf club on Canal Road in Lahore. At the moment, NAB is investigating the case.
Moreover, Mr Gondal, has throughout been part of the PAC, first as member and now as its chairman, which had grilled retired generals in the National Logistics Cell case, and the railway land scam, and recommended disciplinary actions against them.
According to some analysts, the ongoing trial of these generals has prompted Gen Kayani to come up with the strongly-worded statement.
Commenting on Gen Kayani’s speech, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F said if the institutions worked within their constitutional limits, nobody would comment on their role.
However, “if you will distribute money, hatch conspiracy, help someone win elections, people will definitely hold debate on such actions”, he said in apparent reference to the SC’s decision in the Asghar Khan case regarding distribution of money among politicians by the ISI in 1990 elections. According to the JUI-F leader, it is the duty of every institution to maintain its sanctity on its own.
Wajih Ahmed Sheikh adds from Lahore: PPP Senator and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Aitzaz Ahsan said the Constitution did not allow the chief justice and the chief of army staff to give political statements.
He, however, said that both the chief justice and the army chief had talked about independence, stability and constitutional limits of state institutions in their statements.
Talking to newsmen at the Lahore High Court on Tuesday, Mr Ahsan said he did not foresee any confrontation between state institutions. He said anti-democratic forces were trying to weaken democracy. Lawyers would resist every unconstitutional move from any quarter, he added.
The PPP leader said implementation of an interim order of the Supreme Court in the Balochistan unrest case was not viable. Decisions of the apex court about unrest in Sindh and Balochistan were tantamount to withdrawing moral justification of democratic governments’ existence, he said.
“If I were the chief minister of Balochistan, I would ask the Supreme Court to run the government affairs for the remaining period,” he said, adding that the Balochistan government could not be dissolved unless members of the provincial assembly wanted to vote out the chief minister.
He reiterated that 17 judges of the SC were not the ultimate wisdom and could err being a human.