President is not a lame duck….

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Qamar Bashir

As the President’s Press Secretary, I witnessed the President laboring and writhing in agony as he attempted to operate the constitutional provisions that had made him supreme commander of the armed forces. I also observed him convulsing while being excluded from all major decisions made by the armed forces and on his inability to intervene in the alleged role of the armed forces in the audio-video leaks, missing persons, alleged intrusion of the army into civilian affairs, and their alleged ability to exercise veto in all major or minor civilian, political, judicial, and legislative decision-making processes.

I was astounded by his public pronouncements on many occasions, in which he bemoaned his powerlessness as head of the administrative, legislative, and judicial branches of government, and as supreme commander of the armed forces, stating, “he is as good as supreme commander of the armed forces as he is the head of other pillars of the state”.

I felt his pain and anguish when his inaction as supreme commander of the armed forces was thrown back in his face as taunts by stalwarts of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), particularly the outspoken Dr. Shireen Mazarin and Ch. Fawad Hussain, as being an ineffective president who had no idea how to use his powers as supreme commander of the armed forces.

When I was appointed Press Secretary, I conducted a modest investigation on the constitutionally granted presidential authorities for my own information. I was quite surprised to see that the entire Constitution centred around the President. The other state organs possess the authority granted to them by the President and are, therefore, logically responsible to him for carrying out their respective duties and obligations. Among the 211 pages of the constitution, the phrase President appears 97 times, Prime Minister 32 times, judge 10 times, and the word armed forces 9 times, which demonstrates the President’s central position (Please refer to the officially issued constitution book for complete accuracy).

I also attempted to compile a list of articles of the constitution  pertaining to the powers of the President as supreme commander of the armed forces and discovered that the President possesses enormous powers and responsibilities, including:

  • Appointing the Army Chief of Staff and other top military leaders.
  • The bestowing of military honours and awards.
  • Authorization of military activities and deployments
  • Declare war or an emergency condition in consultation with the Prime Minister and National Security Council.
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, which is responsible for coordinating the activities of the three military branches.
  • The implementation of martial law in the event of a national security emergency or threat.

I proceeded further to comprehend the translations of constitutional provisions in the act and discovered that Chapter 2 Armed forces Act 1952 granted the President enormous powers, which are as follows:

  • Appointing the Army Chief of Staff and other top military leaders.
  • Approve the appointment of all regular army officers, as well as promotions and transfers, in agreement with the COAS.
  • Approval of the army’s governing rules and regulations, including the code of conduct and discipline.
  • Authorizing military activities and deployments, as well as the use of military force abroad.
  • Approval of military court sentences and commutation, remission, or suspension of sentences handed down by such tribunals.
  • Establishing military courts and appointing its judges.
  • Authorizing the bestowal of military honors and awards.

Afterwards, I also consulted the Role of Business of the government of Pakistan to outline the President’s powers in the performance of executive duties. Even so, these powers are immense: What exactly are they? Appointing the Prime Minister in cooperation with National Assembly members. Appointing federal ministers, advisors, and assistants under the Prime Minister’s advice. Delivering assent to bills that have been enacted by the Parliament and are then signed into law. Convocation and adjournment of National Assembly and Senate sessions. Outlining the government’s policies and programmes in a joint or separate address to the legislature at the beginning of each legislative year. Appointing the Chief Justice and other judges of the Pakistan Supreme Court and other federal courts in conjunction with the Pakistan Chief Justice and the Prime Minister. Approving the appointment of the National Accountability Bureau’s Chairman and members (NAB). Serving as Pakistan’s ceremonial head of state, greeting foreign guests, and representing Pakistan in international forums. Establishing a state of emergency or suspending fundamental rights under specific conditions, in collaboration with the Prime Minister and the National Security Advisory Council.

These are extremely significant and pivotal powers granted to the President by the Rules of Business. I am consequently always perplexed as to why a president elected through a rigorous election process is referred to as a lame duck. I believe that the problem stems from the failure of the President’s administration to enforce the translation of his constitutional powers into acts and, subsequently, rules and regulations by each appropriate organ of state. Thus, it is necessary that each and every provision of the constitution pertaining to the President’s powers be codified and enacted by an act of parliament, followed by the formulation of all applicable rules and regulations. In addition, there is a need to establish an effective system for identifying the gap between constitutional provisions and their translation into acts and regulations, filling that gap with constant pursuit, advocacy, and administrative means, and establishing punitive provisions for failure to enact constitutional provisions, failure to translate them into rules and regulations, and subsequent failure to implement the rules and regulations.

It goes without saying that Pakistan’s constitution is the supreme law of the land, and it provides the framework for the country’s governance and legal system. It establishes the rights and duties of citizens, the structure of government, and the limits of state power. If someone violates the constitution, they may be charged with contempt of court or sedition, depending on the nature of their offense. The penalty for these charges can range from fines to imprisonment, and in some cases, even death.

President’s offices should identify all instances in which orders issued by him in the exercise of his constitutional powers have been violated and bring all such cases to court for proper and forceful adjudication in order to establish the constitutional authority of the office of the President.

The writer is the Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister at Embassy of Pakistan to France