By: Qamar Bashir
In a stunning revelation that sent shockwaves through the already turbulent landscape of the country’s political and legal arena, the President of Pakistan took to Twitter to vehemently disavow his consent for the Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023.
With unwavering clarity, he laid bare that his trust had been exploited by his own subordinates, who cunningly maneuvered an unapproved bill past him, subsequent to the stipulated deadline. This deceitful act was then manipulated by the government as a seal of approval.
Tragically, these bills were swiftly enshrined into law upon their publication in the official gazette, wielding immediate effect. The repercussions reverberated with unrelenting force, as a flurry of arrests ensued, actions that might never have materialized if the bills had not been improperly sanctioned.
The President’s comprehensive tweet, an exposé of monumental proportions, stirred a maelstrom within the already turbulent waters of the nation’s political and legal fabric. The stunning tweet is reproduced hereunder:
“As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 as I disagreed with these laws. I asked my staff to return the bills unsigned within stipulated time to make them ineffective. I confirmed from them many times that whether they have been returned & was assured that they were. However I have found out today that my staff undermined my will and command. As Allah knows all, He will forgive IA. But I ask forgiveness from those who will be effected”.
The tweet was fully loaded, generating many interpretation, hinting that the President’s words stood solitary, and only Allah was the wittness to President’s real intentions.
Ironically, these very words inadvertently bared the President’s authentic intentions, desires, and mindset. Nestled within his discourse were two pivotal declarations: a steadfast assertion that he had refrained from affixing his signature to the contentious bills and a categorical dissent encompassing the entirety of their provisions. These declarative punches cast a shadow of suspicion over the legality and legitimacy of these newly minted laws, fostering an environment ripe for intricate constitutional and legal complexities to unfurl in the days ahead.
Within those lines to many, a tacit acceptance seemed to emerge—acceptance that both bills, whether justly or unjustly, had metamorphosed into Acts. This revelation was accompanied by a stark realization, a reckoning with the impending consequences that would ripple through the lives of countless citizens, with the President inadvertently owning a substantial portion of their ensuing agony.
A subsequent utterance served to reaffirm the President’s stance, painting his decision as a conscientious one guided by a bond with a higher power. He professed his alignment with Allah’s knowledge of his unwavering reluctance to endorse these bills, thus invoking the hope of divine forgiveness for his ostensibly overbearing action. In this same breath, he extended a heartfelt plea for clemency from those currently bearing the brunt of these legislations, as well as those who might be ensnared in its web in the days to come, until a future assembly can revise or revoke these legal constructs.
In an artful transition, the narrative’s trajectory redirected blame towards the President’s subordinates, painting them as orchestrators of a deceptive ploy that bore two distinct accusations. Firstly, they allegedly fabricated a falsehood, assuring him that the bills had been dispatched before the stipulated deadline, resulting in their nullification. Secondly, these individuals purportedly brazenly flouted the President’s explicit directives.
The contentious tweet cast a shadow of doubt over the legality of both bills, igniting a fervent storm within the media, legal circles, and political echelons. As various stakeholders interpreted the bills through their unique lenses, biases, and vested interests, a cacophony of opinions reverberated.
In response, the government’s spokesperson took an unequivocal stance, dismissing the tweet’s significance and legal validity. Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmad Irfan Aslam, the caretaker federal minister of law, who in a different phase of life shared sunlit conversations, contended that the President’s options were limited under Article 48(1) of the constitution. The President could either sanction the bill or offer written recommendations for comprehensive amendments. The constitution stipulated a 15-day window for the President’s decision. Failure to either sign the bill or return it within this timeframe would lead to the automatic validation of the bill as an act.
In the current scenario, where the bill had not been signed or returned for reconsideration within the designated 15 days, the President’s belated tweet was deemed inconsequential—a retroactive gesture with no power to alter the course of events.
Ms. Shireen Rehman of the PPP didn’t hold back in her critique, going so far as to question the President’s competence and suggesting that an inability to manage his own staff renders him unfit to govern the country. She pressed for his immediate resignation, a sentiment echoed by leaders from both the PPP and PML(N) during their tweets and talk shows.
However, a contrasting stance emerged from the PTI camp. PTI spokesperson and lawyer Shoaib Shaheen, along with Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of PILDAT, took a different perspective. They highlighted that the President’s candid expression of his disagreement with the bills, coupled with his purported instruction for them to be returned unsigned within the stipulated period, warranted prompt action from the government. In their view, the bills should be withdrawn and denotified. This would initiate a fresh legislative process, necessitating presentation to the forthcoming assembly and senate. Should these bodies pass the bills once again, the President’s assent would be sought.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob further escalated the discourse, challenging the President to summon the entire chain of command from the relevant section for an explanation. He asserted that strict disciplinary measures, as sanctioned by the law, should be meted out to those officers who intentionally flouted the President’s explicit directives. This proposal effectively laid down the gauntlet, urging accountability for those who deviated from established protocol.
In the current aftermath, with substantial repercussions having already unfolded, the President possesses a strategic set of options. Operating within the framework of Article 48(2), he wields discretionary power to make decisions on matters granted to him by the Constitution. Importantly, actions taken by the President in his discretionary capacity are shielded from challenge on any grounds whatsoever, ensuring the validity of his course of action remains intact. This provision allows the President a measure of latitude to navigate the situation while remaining within the bounds of his constitutional authority.
Indeed, by invoking this power, the President has a strategic avenue at his disposal. He could dispatch a letter to the Prime Minister, and if necessary, to the Senate Chairman or the Speaker of the National Assembly. These letters would outline the circumstances wherein the bills were meant to be returned unsigned by the due date, per his explicit instructions, with the sole purpose of rendering them ineffective. This communication would clearly express his dissent and disagreement with both bills.
Subsequently, the President could argue that, in both instances, his dissent and rejection should be considered as having been issued prior to the deadline for returning the bills to the Prime Minister.
This maneuver would effectively create a legal instrument. Given that the President’s unequivocal orders are immune from legal challenge, the government’s options to withdraw the notifications and halt the enactment of the laws would be limited.
Should the government decline to adhere to the President’s advice, those adversely affected could resort to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This avenue would allow them to seek an immediate stay order, effectively halting the implementation of the contested laws. Subsequently, they could seek a court ruling that compels the government to withdraw the notifications and reverse any actions taken under the auspices of these laws. This legal recourse would be grounded in the authority of the judiciary to uphold constitutional principles and ensure proper governance.
In tandem with the strategic moves outlined earlier, it would be prudent for the President to initiate swift disciplinary proceedings. He could direct the Establishment Division to commence actions against the civilian chain of command involved in the episode. Similarly, the Ministry of Defence could be instructed to undertake parallel proceedings under the Military Act against the armed forces staff who willfully disregarded the President’s explicit directives.
The gravity of this situation, with implications on national security, the political terrain, and even the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 7 to 40 of the Constitution of Pakistan, underscores the need for robust action. By pursuing disciplinary proceedings, the President would not only assert his authority and commitment to accountability but also lay the groundwork for addressing any potential infringement on constitutional rights. This multi-faceted approach ensures that both the immediate crisis and its broader implications are addressed effectively and comprehensively.