When playing chess, there often comes a point where you or your opponent is dominating, and a checkmate is imminent. At that point, a decision is made by the losing player to resign, in order not to waste time, or face the humiliation of actually getting checkmated.
This is considered a dignified approach. Imran Khan chose not to adopt it, even after his support in the National Assembly dropped to a 140 MNAs and a defeat in the vote for no-confidence was certain. He instead asserted that he will “play till the last ball.”
But before the last ball had been bowled, he threw a tantrum about the game being rigged against him, uprooted the wickets and set the pitch on fire as he made his way outside the stadium with his team, or what is left of it.
In its aftermath, Khan has left behind a constitutional catastrophe. He has made a complete mockery of the rule of law and parliamentary procedures. Aware of the fact that Article 58 of the Constitution states that a prime minister facing a vote of no-confidence cannot advice the president to dissolve the National Assembly, Khan shrewdly worked around that. He ordered his Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri to strike out the resolution before the House on the vote of no-confidence. Suri did that by citing Article 5 of the Constitution which demands loyalty from every citizen to the state. He said that a resolution rooted in a foreign conspiracy goes against that principle.
Until this constitutional disaster, Khan was well on his way to establishing his run towards the next elections even if he was ousted from power… Now, however, he has lost that leverage and any steam he was picking up by making himself out to be a victim in a “rigged” constitutional process, is gone.
This raises four very serious issues and concerns. Firstly, the speaker has no right to invoke Article 5 to strike out a resolution before the parliament in such a way. His job is only to count votes, not to throw out motions moved before the house. Secondly, Article 5(2) also sets out the obligation for every citizen to obey the constitution. This imposes an obligation on the speaker to uphold the sanctity of a process protected by Article 95 (vote of no-confidence) of the constitution. Previously, Speaker Asad Qaiser had also shown utter disregard for rules governing the requisition of the National Assembly under Article 54(3) of the Constitution. Thirdly, if the government was aware of a threat posed to Pakistan’s security, it would have been wise to take the parliament in confidence. Khan asserted that contents of the letter were too sensitive to be brought before such a large forum. That is false. He refused to present the letter before the parliament because it was a whole bunch of nothing. Neither was it serious nor did it pose a threat to Pakistan’s security. It was a pre-meditated letter developed for the sole purpose of being used as a political prop.
And fourthly, the Supreme Court quickly took suo motu notice of the dissolution. While Article 69 of the Constitution states that the courts are not to inquire into the proceedings of the parliament, there are exceptions to this rule when the courts think that an attempt is being made to abrogate the constitution. Parallels can be drawn from Supreme Court’s intervention in the cases of former Prime Ministers Muhammad Khan Junejo and Nawaz Sharif in 1988 and 1993 respectively.
It is entirely possible that Khan’s latest move was a way to stick it to the establishment that had abandoned him at this critical juncture. But for that, Khan only has himself to blame. His decisions leading up to this point did little to keep the establishment on the same page. Relationships had started turning sour with the appointment of Usman Buzdar as Chief Minister in Punjab, got worse with the squabble over appointment of DG ISI, and got really bad with after the Russian visit, the subsequent alienation of the US and Lettergate. The fact that Army Chief Qamar Bajwa had to step in and clean the diplomatic mess left by Khan, by saying Pakistan has always enjoyed good relations with the US, was possibly the last straw in Khan’s hat. He decided that if he was not being allowed to play, he will not let anyone else play either.
Until this constitutional disaster, Khan was well on his way to establishing his run towards the next elections even if he was ousted from power. He was deploying every trick from the populist playbook by presenting himself as the protector of good against evil, national interests against foreign conspiracies, and selflessness against self-interest. Now, however, he has lost that leverage and any steam he was picking up by making himself out to be a victim in a “rigged” constitutional process, is gone. He went from being a political martyr to a constitutional assassin. History will not remember Khan kindly for this.