Celebrating its golden jubilee but not upholding the Constitution

As we commemorate our Constitution's golden jubilee, we must confront some difficult concerns.

Agha Ameer Mukhtar May 05, 2023

Pakistan, a country of over 200 million people, commemorated the golden jubilee of its Constitution. While we mark this historic occasion, we must reflect on the failures and difficulties that lie ahead. Pakistan's Constitution is a living constitution that serves as the foundation for a democratic and just society. Yet, the government has struggled to preserve the ideals and fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, resulting in corruption, economic instability, and a culture of impunity.

All citizens are guaranteed equality, fairness, and the rule of law under the constitution. Sadly, military coups and dictators have trampled on the constitution and stifled criticism in Pakistan. This has harmed fundamental rights and freedoms while also perpetuating a culture of corruption that has eroded the rule of law.

For example, during General Ayub Khan's rule, the Constitution was amended to concentrate power in the presidency and restrict political freedoms. Similarly, General Yahya Khan oversaw widespread human rights abuses, including the genocide of Bengalis in East Pakistan, during his suspension of the Constitution. General Zia-ul-Haq amended the Constitution to strengthen the presidency and restrict political freedoms while implementing strict Islamic laws that discriminated against women and religious minorities. General Pervez Musharraf's suspension of the Constitution saw him restrict political freedoms, censor the media, and commit human rights abuses while failing to address poverty and inequality. These actions by military dictators have violated the Constitution's principles and undermined Pakistan's progress and prosperity.

To our dismay, the public has lost its trust in government institutions due to corruption as it evidently exacerbated economic insecurity, stifling the country's progress and prosperity. The sugar crisis of 2020, which saw prices skyrocket due to shortage is one such example. Investigations revealed that sugar mill owners had been hoarding sugar, creating an artificial shortage to drive up prices. Some politicians were also found to have received kickbacks from sugar mill owners. At an international level, we can look at the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that has been criticised for a lack of transparency, with allegations of kickbacks and corruption in the allocation of contracts.

Similarly, there have been allegations of corruption in the government's handling of relief aid allocated for natural disasters, with reports of aid not reaching those who need it most. In addition, the government has been criticised for its handling of public finances, with reports of embezzlement and mismanagement.

Thus, the State has clearly has failed to adhere to the foundations of its Constitution, resulting in a culture of inequality and injustice. The neglect of policy ideals such as promoting social and economic fairness and ensuring judicial independence has prevented the provision of appropriate means of subsistence for all citizens. Consequently, a widening wealth gap and limited access to basic necessities have increased. Although the Pakistani Constitution prohibits religious discrimination, minorities face persecution and violence, which restricts their access to education, employment, and other fundamental rights.

Despite the constitution's guarantee of judicial independence, the justice system is frequently corrupt, allowing the affluent to escape punishment while the poor and marginalised are left without justice. Pakistan's Constitution also calls for social and economic justice, yet economic inequality remains one of the highest in the world. The majority of citizens struggle to make ends meet while a select few control the nation's wealth.

Although the Constitution prohibits gender discrimination, women in Pakistan face numerous barriers to equality, including limited access to education, employment, and political representation, as well as high levels of domestic violence and other forms of abuse.

Moreover, the current economic challenges stem from a lack of fiscal prudence and economic stability, which has put the government at risk of default. These difficulties could have been avoided if the fundamental values of good governance, fiscal restraint, and economic stability enshrined in the Constitution had been respected.

Since 2022, Pakistan is still facing economic woes, with the government struggling to control spending and increase revenue, leading to a widening fiscal gap. The fiscal deficit for the fiscal year 2021-22 had increased to 8.9 per cent of GDP, significantly higher than the targeted 7.4 per cent. The country's dwindling foreign exchange reserves have raised concerns about the government's ability to service its external debt obligations. Urgent steps are needed to address the fiscal imbalance, or the public debt could reach 80 per cent of GDP by the end 2023, as forecasted by many organisations.

It is crucial that the government adopts a more responsible fiscal policy to ensure the long-term sustainability of Pakistan's economy and development. To remedy these issues, people who have violated the Constitution and engaged in corrupt practises must be held accountable. Pakistan requires institutions that are independent, transparent, and free of political meddling. A comprehensive effort from all sectors of society, including the government, civil society and the media will be required to achieve this goal. It is time to work towards a stronger and more prosperous Pakistan by maintaining the Constitution's ideals.

In doing so, we must look to other jurisdictions, such as the United States, for guidance. Constitutional doctrines such as originalism and living constitutionalism were hotly argued there. Living constitutionalism emphasises interpreting the constitution in light of evolving societal values and circumstances, whereas originalism emphasises interpreting the constitution based on the original intent of its architects. To guarantee that the constitution remains relevant and effective in guiding our nation towards progress and prosperity, we must seek to strike a balance between the two philosophies.

As we commemorate our Constitution's golden jubilee, we must confront some difficult concerns. How can we ensure that our institutions are impartial, transparent, and free of political influence? How can we bring those responsible for constitutional violations and corrupt activities accountable? How do we assure that we do not deviate from the course outlined in the constitution?

These are difficult questions, but they are also necessary ones if we are to build a stronger and more prosperous Pakistan. The government, civil society, media and the judiciary must work together to confront our past failures and find solutions that will allow us to uphold the ideals enshrined in our Constitution. Upholding the Constitution is not only a legal obligation but a moral imperative. As the Holy Quran reminds us, ‘stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve’.

Agha Ameer Mukhtar

The writer is an Advocate and Faculty of Law at Ziauddin University. He represents public and private institutions. He tweets @aghameermu1.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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