Malik Muhammad Ashraf
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)
Imran and Qadri often quote Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution regarding freedom for movement and assembly by the citizens to justify their right to launch their marches and stage sit-ins at Islamabad but avoid to unravel the corresponding restrictions on these rights prescribed in the same articles. Article 15 on the right to free movement says: “Every citizen shall have the right to remain in, and, subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the public interest, enter and move freely throughout Pakistan and to reside and settle in any part thereof.” Article 16 on the right of assembly stipulates: “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.”
As is evident the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution are contingent upon the citizens exercising those rights within the ambit of laws prevalent in the country in a peaceful manner and without threatening the public order by use of arms or force. Maintenance of public order is accorded top priority in any kind of governing dispensation and nowhere in the world constitutions allow unbridled freedom for enjoying these rights. Protesting against the policies of the sitting government and taking out rallies for recording protest within the ambit of law is ungrudgingly allowed. For the benefit of the readers perhaps it would be pertinent to quote Section 141 of the Pakistan Penal Code that stipulates as to when an assembly becomes unlawful: “An assembly of five or more persons is designated unlawful assembly if the common object of the persons composing that assembly is to overawe by criminal force, or show of criminal force, the Federal or any provincial government or legislature, or any public servant in the exercise of lawful power of such public servant; to resist the execution of any law, or of any legal process; to commit any mischief or criminal trespass, or other offence; or by criminal force, or show of criminal force, to any person to take or obtain possession of any property or to deprive any person of the enjoyment of a right of way, or of the use of water or other incorporeal right of which he is in possession or enjoyment; or by means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do.”
In the light of the constitutional clauses and the section of the Pakistan Penal Code the sit-ins staged by PTI and PAT, attack on the Parliament House, Prime Minister House, Pakistan Secretariat, possession of PTV headquarter by force by the PAT workers holding spiked clubs, attempts by PTI workers to stop the prison van from carrying their workers to jail after the court had ordered them to be sent on judicial remand, forcible release of PTI workers from police custody by Imran Khan, provocative and inflammatory speeches inciting workers to violence, PAT vigilantes guarding the Constitution Avenue and obstructing the right of way of the citizens, beating of the media persons and relentless attacks on Geo’s building in close proximity with the sit-ins by the PTI workers, all constitute a serious breach of the constitution and the laws of the land. The full bench of Lahore High Court in its decision of 13th August had declared their demands and marches as unconstitutional and a three-member bench of the Lahore High Court, now hearing a petition by a private citizen, has permitted filing of contempt proceedings against PTI and PAT leaders for having violated that order and gone ahead with their marches.
Our country, no doubt, is long overdue for reforms in the systems of governance and the way we elect our legislatures to strengthen democracy. But both Imran and Qadri are preaching anarchy and chaos hiding behind their proposed agendas of reforms. Their real motives and the conspiracy that brought these two gentlemen together to create chaotic conditions in the country paving the way for military intervention, have been exposed by none other than Javed Hashmi and the former COAS General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg. The revelations by the latter have even added international dimensions to this sordid episode. Speaking to Salim Safi in the programme ‘Jirga’, he accused some former generals and associates of Pervez Musharraf to have hatched this conspiracy with the backing of USA, Canada and UK, a charge readily denied by these countries. He also categorically stated that this conspiracy had been thwarted by timely decision of the present COAS General Raheel Sharif. In my articles on the subject while I went along the conspiracy theory I invariably maintained that there was a very strong circumstantial evidence to refute the involvement of the current army leadership in the on-going political crisis. General Raheel Sharif and even General Kayani have played a laudable role in the continuation and strengthening of the democratic and constitutional rule in the country.
But the greater onus lies on the politicians. The political crisis has given them the opportunity to focus on the issues of reforms. The incumbent government is more than willing to facilitate and participate in the process of reforms through consensus among all the political forces. Qadri is a different case but Imran Khan who is a leader of the masses in his own right and has considerable presence in the Parliament, he needs to realise that it was no more possible to reach the corridors of power through shortcuts using unsubstantiated allegations as a whipping horse. All the state institutions, the civil society, lawyers, media, judiciary and army have expressed their support for the democratic process and constitutional rule in the country. He should become part of the reforms process and try to get his grievances addressed through the legal forums. And if there are certain laws and practices that hamper the quick and timely dispensation of justice, they can be changed through the Parliament. Personal egos and ambitions should not be allowed to sabotage national interests.
Both PTI and PAT, having failed in implementing their plan, are better advised to end the sit-ins. They must go back to the public, propagate their manifestoes and try to win the public mandate in the next elections to implement them. Any other course would be suicidal for them as well as harmful to the interest of the country.