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> Challenges faced by Democracy in 2017 likely to intensify in 2018: PILDAT releases Assessment of the Quality of Democracy in Pakistan in 2017
   
 
Quality Of Democracy
January 01, 2018
Lahore

   

Challenges faced by Democracy in 2017 likely to intensify in 2018: PILDAT releases Assessment of the Quality of Democracy in Pakistan in 2017

January 01; Analysing the quality of democracy, PILDAT has identified the following key areas that have had an impact on state and quality of democracy in 2017. Quality of democracy in Pakistan in year 2017 seems to be gradually losing its sheen since 2013. Instead of a steady transition towards improvement, democracy in Pakistan year after year since 2013 shows a somewhat tumultuous trend. 2017 saw considerable challenges to democracy in Pakistan and as the country enters 2018, the challenges are likely to intensify for a variety of reasons including the General Election due in August 2018.

  1. Testing time for democratic order: If the current democratic order endures jolts and shocks in the next 4 months, democracy will come out stronger. If street agitation further puts constitutional arrangement under attack, democracy may collapse sinking the country in a deep crisis. Rising political polarization is reaching new heights as the country enters the election year. If the bitterness and war of words not controlled, it may lead to violence during election campaign.

  2. In 2017, Pakistan entered the longest uninterrupted period of democracy in its history but democracy appears to be weakening.

  3. Civilian space is shrinking in Policy Spheres: Military is both sucked into non-professional spheres while it is increasing its overreach into areas outside of its professional domain while elected Governments and political leadership cedes space. Civil-Military relations seem to be touching low water mark as tension between military establishment and a popular political party is spilling out in the public. National Security Committee (NSC) started meeting regularly after a long period of near dormancy. The forum should address strategic issues in civil-military relations in a sustained manner alongside routine operational matters.

  4. Lethargic and Slow decision-making at the top executive level: Decision-making at the Federal level and in most of the Provinces remained painfully slow and lethargic. Top positions could not be filled in time and major policy decisions waited indefinitely until forced to act by the events or judicial orders. Mainstreaming of FATA, Appointment of a full-time Foreign Minister, Appointment of a full-time Finance Minister after Mr. Ishaq Dar became dysfunctional due to court cases and later indisposition are some of the examples of government indecision. 

  5. Faizabad Dharna and its aftermath have raised serious questions with grave implications for the stability of the State. All Pakistanis owe it to their country to not only ask these questions but also contribute to the search for right answers to these questions. The Constitution clearly defines all the rules of the game on democratic governance of the homeland. Multiple power centres, resorting to dharnas and weakening the writ have to have an end.

  6. NAP and fight against terrorism: Armed forces deserve highest national gratitude for supreme sacrifices in stemming the tide of terrorism but terrorism incidents in 2017 show that this let up is temporary as collectively, national civil and military leadership has failed to fix structural problems responsible for extremism and terrorism

  7. Electoral Reforms: Political parties have, time and again, shown they lack internal policy cohesion and required and timely focus on national issues. The delay and careless passage of Elections Act, 2017, which has some deliberate reversal of earlier important gains and delay in passage of the 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017, have not brought in the required attention and focus to electoral reforms. Despite this setback, Pakistan is prepared better than ever to hold a free and fair 11th General Election in 2018

  8. Internal democracy of Political parties, already extremely weak, eroded further during 2017 as the parties boldly experimenting with genuine party elections also succumbed to the prevailing norm of election merely for the sake of fulfilling a legal formality.

  9. Parliament and Provincial Assemblies were unable to resolve political and institutional crises in 2017, as before. Members and top political leaders alike show little respect for legislative proceedings as attendance frequently falls way below the 25 % mark leading to premature adjournments and even prorogation. Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies and their committees especially failed in undertaking effective oversight of the executive. This failing opened the way for the Superior Judiciary to hold the executive accountable.

  10. Judiciary appeared to have succumbed to populist pressures and street sentiments when it gave mostly unwarranted observations in judicial proceedings, which have damaged and hurt the cause of justice. Serious questions on the formation of JIT and other unprecedented steps in Panama case remain unanswered. Huge backlog of cases persist and a failed system of justice continues with no reforms in sight while judiciary remains busy with high profile political cases and matters relating to executive domain. As popular political parties mount open assault on some of the recent decisions of the superior judiciary, public trust in judiciary appears to be weakening and judiciary seems to be making unprecedented efforts to publically defend itself. Superior courts will need to enforce their own code of conduct more rigorously and guard their prestige more vigilantly.

  11. Media and Social Media achieved and exacerbated new heights of political polarisation in Pakistan. Social Media became a new weapon of insult and disinformation as political parties and many non-political actors deploy huge social media teams to control opinion formation. Serious concerns are expressed about possible abuse of social media by organized groups and foreign powers to influence the upcoming General Election.

Quality of Democracy in 2017


Disqualified Prime Minister Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif with his daughter Ms. Maryam Nawaz

On June 09, 2017, Pakistan entered the longest spell of uninterrupted democracy in its 70-year history. This longest uninterrupted period of democracy amounts to 14 years, 6 months and counting began with 12th National Assembly's term on November 16, 2002. The previous longest spell of democracy that began on March 20, 1985 under the premiership of Mr. Junejo was interrupted by the Mushrarraf coup d'état on October 12, 1999.

Although Pakistan is more democratic in form and processes than ever before, the democratic system is not steadily moving towards consolidation through crucially required reforms in the effective functioning of key democratic institutions.

Democracy is a system that provides a legitimate means to achieve a beneficial end for the populace in addressing and resolving fundamental issues to the system of governance. Instead, beginning from 2016 to the middle of 2017, the country has witnessed little, if any, improvement in fundamental functioning of key democratic institutions rendering those almost completely ineffective in resolving systemic issues behind concerns such as Panama leaks, elected Government's inability to exercise its constitutional writ to be the final arbiter on national security and foreign policy domains, and its evident failure and perhaps even reluctance in institutionalizing consultative decision-making process in not just national security but other domains of basic democratic governance structures such as those of the Federal and Provincial Cabinets, Council of Common Interest and Legislatures. The system of democratic governance continues to fail to resolve vital concerns plaguing the country's journey to peace, equitable growth and prosperity.

The end of 2017 also brings in sharper focus on testing time for democratic order. If the current democratic order endures the jolts and shocks in the next 4 months and the Senate election in March 2018 concludes peacefully, democracy will come out stronger. If street agitation erupts and constitutional arrangement comes under attack, democracy may collapse sinking the country in a deep crisis.

Civil-Military Relations

The state of Civil-Military relations in Pakistan continue to be the biggest stumbling block to consolidation of democracy in Pakistan. While the relations have never followed the intent of the Constitution and therefore have never been ideal, developments in 2017 have brought further critical challenges for Pakistan's prosperity and democratic future.

As Pakistan turned 70, it has been ruled directly by Military for over 30 out of 70 years while not a single elected Prime Minister of Pakistan has, so far, been able to complete the Constitutional tenure of 5 years in office. Other than 4 direct interventions by the military since Pakistan's independence in 1947, most of the successive military commanders have exercised de-facto authority on crucial aspects of national security management including regional and international affairs. As a result, state of civil-military relations in Pakistan is the single most important factor upon which the quality of democracy in Pakistan depends.

With Pakistan's Supreme Court disqualifying Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's Prime Minister elected to office on June 01, 2013 through the 10 th General Election in Pakistan, for being 'not honest' under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, [1] critical challenges appeared on the democratic horizon for Pakistan. The 6-member 'Joint Investigation Team-JIT' which submitted a report to the Supreme Court based on which the Court gave its decision included two serving military officers from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI).  

Earlier than that, the expansion of a looming shadow of military's over-reach in civilian, political and policy affairs was already becoming a concern based on the belief that sucking military into non-professional spheres would be at the cost of their primary focus of the defence of the country. Legitimate questions were raised that not only that military institutions such as the ISI and the MI do not have the professional role to investigate white-collar crime but also that the Honourable Supreme Court should not have inducted military agencies into highly politicized Panama Case enquiry.[2]

Instead of being received as a Supreme Court verdict, the disqualification was seen by many as being orchestrated as a part of an alleged Get-Nawaz agenda. While some resorted to whispers and innuendo on media, others, including the international media considered the disqualification to be an outcome of sour civil-military relations and questioned the future of democracy in Pakistan. National media offered analyses that said " elected governments in Pakistan have less to fear from the Indian army than from their own ;" and that "[Pakistan's] security establishment regularly betrays contempt for civilians. There is a view that elected governments are regarded as unwanted pregnancies, to be aborted whenever need be, to save the motherland. The latest still-birth is the ouster of a third-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif ." [3] The criticism of the disqualification was even more scathing in international media, which said that " the judicial farce that resulted in Sharif's most recent ouster demonstrates that the courts remain tools for the generals to clip democracy's wings ."[4]

Shrinking Civilian Space

Instead of making forward strides towards democratic oversight of defence and security sector, 2017 has seen shrinking of civilian space in decision-making of national and international spheres. With the appointment of the new COAS in November 2016, it was hoped that the country might experience a reversal of the tendency of the Military to take the leading role on matters of national security and certain domains of our foreign policy. However, developments during 2017 show that this trend has continued unabated with the elected Government continuing to act as an auxiliary. Political leadership, especially the civilian elected governments, must share the responsibility for receding civilian authority because they failed to strengthen national institutions and preferred political expediency over merit.

Military's Over-reach in non-professional spheres

Pakistan's history is replete with references where the Armed Forces have taken on such responsibilities that lie outside their professional domain. This state of affairs has partly developed because of lack of initiative by the civil administration. However, there is no shortage of defence and security challenges facing Pakistan that is the core responsibility of the Armed Forces. If the Armed Forces begin to spend their energies, resources and time on fixing every problem faced by Pakistan, not only that resolution of most problems lies outside of their professional capabilities and doing so would be at the expense of their core role of ensuring the security of Pakistan, this also amounts to further weakening the civilian capacity and the will to put in place institutional solutions to problems of democratic governance facing Pakistan.

The biggest and perhaps the most unfortunate incidence of military ending a political dharna that was largely seen as a capitulation of the State to mobs was witnessed through the agreement that ended Faizabad dharna thanking the COAS and his team in November 2017. However, it was not the first mediation of this kind by the Army Chief. Earlier, the Chief of Army Staff involved himself in ending a political-cum-sectarian dharna in Parachinar. In addition, the COAS addressed a range of seminars, with many co-organised by the ISPR, on role of Youth, economy and others, met with a number of youth, business, religious and political leaders and facilitated sporting events. [5] The trend became so popular that a political leader and former mayor of Karachi demanded of the COAS that the development work in Karachi should be taken over by the Pakistan Army.

But it is not just domestic policy issues that Gen. Bajwa took time to focus on away from his COAS responsibilities. He seemed to have taken upon himself the additional responsibilities of managing foreign policy, regional and global relations as well. General Bajwa made 9 international trips to countries including Afghanistan, Australia, China, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE & UK, and while in Pakistan met with a number of Ambassadors and visiting foreign dignitaries.

This overreach, however, is not just limited to the Chief of Army Staff. In addition to the COAS, the year also saw Formation Commanders issuing statements on policy areas such as 'FATA reforms,' 'stability and progress of Balochistan' 'Karachi operation and Punjab operation till sustainable stability.'[6] ISPR has also continued to report that various formation commanders and the ISPR have been holding interactions with and organizing internships for youth, facilitating cricket matches and other sporting events, etc., depicting that Military is over-extending itself further into areas that neither fall into its professional responsibility nor professional competence.

COAS briefing to Senate

Towards the close of the year, in a somewhat unusual manner and in response to the invitation extended by the Chairman Senate, Chief of Army Staff visited the Senate of Pakistan to brief the Senate's Committee of the Whole on national security issues. [7] While the briefing was in-camera, news media reported details through various quotes from the DG ISPR as well as a number of Senators who were part of the briefing. In recent history, Gen. Bajwa is the second COAS to have come to Parliament for a briefing following such a briefing by the erstwhile COAS Kayani and then-DG ISI Lt. Gen. Pasha who briefed joint session of the Parliament in May 2011 after the killing of Osama bin Laden in the Abbottabad operation. In terms of personally briefing the Parliament or any of its committee, Gen. Bajwa's may be regarded as the first of its kind.


COAS Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa arriving at the Senate of Pakistan to give a briefing

That the COAS briefed a house of the Parliament is both a good development and also brings home the stark reality of the miles Pakistan's democratic oversight of defence have to travel to follow the norm in other developed democracies. The fanfare with which the COAS was received was almost similar to a head of a State opening the Parliament in Pakistan or in other democracies. What is a common and usual occurrence in democracies such as UK [8] [9]and next door India where heads and representatives of respective defence forces regularly appear before their relevant Parliamentary committees to both brief them and answer their questions, was stage managed in Pakistan to appear as a welcome watershed. The Parliament and Pakistan's democratic order need to efficiently and speedily evolve in a manner that such briefings should be a normal and regular occurrence by the relevant Parliamentary Committees and not at the level of Joint Session or one house of Parliament.

Lethargic and Slow decision-making at the top executive level

Decision-making at the Federal level and in most of the Provinces remained painfully slow and lethargic. Top positions could not be filled in time and major policy decisions waited indefinitely until forced to act by the events or judicial orders. Some of the instances include Mainstreaming of FATA, Appointment of a full-time Foreign Minister, Appointment of a full-time Finance Minister after Mr. Ishaq Dar became dysfunctional due to court cases and later indisposition. Same trend was witnessed in key appointments such as those of NAB, ECP, and others.

Faizabad Dharna and its Aftermath

The manner in which the Faizabad sit-in [10] was ended and the terms of the agreement signed by the Government with protesters through the corroboration of the Army - all mark a disappointing watershed in the history of Pakistan. That the Army, tasked by the Federal Government, facilitated an agreement that capitulated the State to demands of a mob has all but disastrous connotations written all over it. Subsequent statements by the leader of the protest and actions, such as the DG Rangers distributing cash amongst dharna protesters, have not only raised serious questions about the writ of the Government and the State but also about the role of the Armed Forces during the protest.


Protesters from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah at the Faizabad Dharna

The disturbing facilitation by the Army can be best summed up using the words of Islamabad High Court Judge, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who termed it "alarming," that a serving military officer signed [the agreement] as guarantor (In fact, the exact word in the agreement was bawisatat or 'through'), and that the COAS and his team were thanked separately in the agreement for helping reach the agreement. " Prima facie, [the] role assumed by the top leadership of army is besides the Constitution and law of land. Armed forces, being part of the executive, cannot travel beyond its mandate bestowed upon it by the organic law of the country, i.e., the Constitution ." Chastising the Army for their role, the Judge said " Army officers eager to participate in politics should first return their guns to the State, take retirement and then join politics ."

The advice by the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi through a telephonic conversation was made public precisely as the Government carried out an operation on the directives of the Islamabad High Court on November 25, 2017. The COAS - "suggested tohandle the Islamabad dharna peacefully to avoid violence from both sides as it is not in national interest" - gave the impression as if the Army has a role above and beyond the executive of the State and that it equated both the State and the protesters holding the State hostage. Similar advice and the tweet were earlier directed at the elected Government during the PTI-PAT dharna that in 2014 by an erstwhile DG ISPR during the term of another COAS who advised " all stakeholders to resolve prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest ." [11]

According to the reports in the media, the Chief of Army Staff declined to involve the troops to end the 19 day long sit in at the Faizabad interchange. In a meeting with Prime Minister, he opposed the Army's use of force against its own people since the population's trust in the institution of the Army "can't be compromised for little gains." [12]


Former Law Minister Mr. Zahid Hamid speaking at a session of the National Assembly before his resignation

Announcing the end of the dharna in a Press Conference on November 27, 2017, Mr. Khadim Hussain Rizvi highlighted the role the Chief of Army Staff played to resolve the issue. [13] The agreement brokered by the Army and signed by the Federal Government specifically thanks the COAS and his team for their facilitation. Not surprisingly, therefore, almost nationwide criticism and condemnation was offered on the Federal Government signing an agreement that compromised the writ of the State. The agreement was termed as a complete capitulation to a mob with serious questions raised on the role of the Armed Forces on its facilitation of an agreement that weakened the writ of the Federal Government and the State. [14]

Having said this, it should, however, be recognized that the reason for the dharna was an extremely sensitive one and it appeared that the religious leaders had successfully mobilised their followers and a large segment of public for agitation. It would have been unwise to subject the Police and Armed Forces to the stresses generated by the agitation on an extremely sensitive and inflammable subject. Having allowed the agitators to travel unhindered from Lahore to Faizabad and giving them the opportunity to settle down and dig-in, it was very difficult to dislodge the agitators without a huge loss of human life. The incompetence of the Federal and Punjab Provincial Governments to not timely deal with the agitators led to a situation where such a humiliating document had to be signed.

This dharna has raised very serious questions with grave implications for the stability of the State. All Pakistanis owe it to their country to not only ask these questions but also contribute to the search for right answers to these questions. The Constitution clearly defines all the rules of the game on democratic governance of the homeland. Multiple power centres resorting to dharnas and weakening the writ have to have an end.

National Action Plan and Fight against Terrorism

2017 also marked the third year of implementation of the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism, which was adopted in January 2015. While NAP serves as the landmark consensus blue print for combatting terrorism and violent extremism in Pakistan, the Federal and Provincial Governments have made no efforts to regularly and publicly make available a progress status on the implementation of NAP.


A snapshot of various terrorism incidents that took place in Pakistan in 2017

The three years of implementation of NAP have indeed provided a comparatively improved security environment with decline in incidence of terrorism but precious lives of citizens and law enforcement agencies have been lost in major incidence of terrorism in 2017, at times calling into doubt the gains achieved in the counter terrorism and counter extremism operations throughout the country.

Pakistan's Law Enforcement Agencies, including the Armed Forces of Pakistan deserve highest national gratitude for supreme sacrifices in stemming the tide of terrorism but terrorism incidents in 2017 show that this let up is temporary as collectively, national leadership has failed to fix structural problems responsible for extremism and terrorism. Perhaps the most glaring example of the schisms in what should be a collective State ideology to tackle terrorism came to surface on what came to be known as the "Dawn Leaks" issue.[15]

2017 once again saw the reconstitution of Military Courts (originally constituted in January 2015 through the 21st Constitutional Amendment by the Parliament with a sunset clause of two years) for another two years. In 2015, the formation of the Military Courts came about as an 'extraordinary measure' which was packaged as a 'stop-gap arrangement' to eradicate terrorism due to the flaws and inefficiencies of the legal system. Hence the two-year sunset clause was placed allowing the Government and the Parliament to institute necessary reforms to strengthen the legal system to adequately and effectively manage challenges of terrorism. Reforms in the criminal justice system within two years were also a central tenet of the National Action Plan (NAP) and its 20th point. However, the Government went ahead with extending the term of Military Courts without any substantive progress on reforming the judicial system. It was expected that before initiating the legislative proposals to re-establish Military Courts, the Government would have informed the Parliament and the people on the two-year performance of the Military Courts, the raison d'être behind their re-establishment for another two years as well as the steps it took in reforming the criminal justice system. That it failed to do so reflected the usual casual approach not just towards such a critical issue of re-establishment of Military Courts but also towards the institution of the Parliament.

The Parliament, for its part, has also done precious little in 3 years since NAP on reviewing the performance of the Government not only on implementation of the National Action Plan but also on reforms in Pakistan's criminal justice system. Although the Senate did a commendable job to produce a detailed report on the Provision of Inexpensive and Speedy Justice in the Country after detailed deliberations in its Committee of the Whole in December 2015, the Parliament on the whole did not exercise its oversight role in a befitting manner. Its Committees should have sought monthly reports from the Government on the steps taken to reform the justice system while analysing the progress on implementation of NAP.

Electoral Reforms

Even though it was delayed, the passage of the 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 in December 2017, has finally paved the way for conduct of delimitation of constituencies on the basis of provisional census results. This is an important development as it helped clear away some of the dark clouds on the horizon for the holding of the 11th General Election in 2018.

Political parties have, time and again, shown that they lack internal policy cohesion and the required focus on national issues for timely action. The unnecessary delay and careless passage of Elections Act, 2017, which has some deliberate reversal of earlier important gains, further exposed the lack of focus of both the Government and the parties on critical questions of electoral reforms in Pakistan.

Despite the delay and inaction by the Parliament, the Election of Commission of Pakistan continued to reform its processes in the light of the shortcomings listed by the General Election 2013 Inquiry Commission in its report released in 2015. The ECP in 2017, therefore, is in a better position to hold more professionally managed 11th General Election than the 10th General Election held in 2013.

However, given the proclivities of certain political forces that tend to question every legitimate process if it doesn't achieve their desired results, dark clouds seem to be hanging over the holding and acceptance of the results of the next General Election.

Internal democracy of Political Parties

The already weak internal democratic structures and processes within Pakistan's leading political parties experienced further erosion in 2017.

The year saw political parties such as the PTI, which boldly experimented with genuine party elections earlier, also succumb to the prevailing norm of election merely for the sake of fulfilling a legal formality. [16]

After the disqualification of Mr. Nawaz Sharif in July 2018, the Parliament passed the Election Bill 2017 which removed the legal bar on a person to serve as an office-bearer of a political party if he is either not qualified to be, or disqualified from being, elected as a member of parliament under Article 63 of the Constitution and thus paved the way for Mr. Sharif to be re-elected as president of PML-N after his ouster.  

Parliament and Provincial Assemblies

Pakistan's National and Provincial Assemblies completed 4th year of their 5-year term in the middle of 2017. While the year provided a context of turmoil and upheavals in a number of areas including politics, terrorism and security issues, Pakistan's legislatures, in a somewhat usual fashion, failed to provide the thought leadership needed to steer the country.

With the end of Mr. Nawaz Sharif's premiership in 2017, it can be safely said that under him as Premier, Parliament was, almost by design, made to lose its relevance when it came to his style of executive governance. With Mr. Nawaz Sharif's third stint at premiership and his younger brother Mr. Shahbaz Sharif's chiefministership in Punjab, the two have come to be known to merely use the legislatures that elect them to only provide them with democratic legitimacy so that they can govern commanding the confidence of the legislative branch. However, when it comes to holding themselves and their governments to be accountable to the legislatures, the concept seems to simply not exist with them. This concept of lack of relevance of Parliament is best understood by their abysmal attendance in the respective legislatures - Mr. Nawaz Sharif attended 45 sittings out of 401 - or 11.22% during his tenure as MNA and Premier from May 2016 - July 2017 while Mr. Shahbaz Sharif attended 19 out of 313 - or 6.1% sittings of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab as heads of governments, their inability, or perhaps indifference to the place and role of legislatures in creating political consensus and harmony on critical national issues and divisions.


PTI Chairman Mr. Imran Khan addressing a rally

Apart from perhaps Pakistan Peoples Party in recent times, the culture of significance of legislatures in political leadership and governance is not well-rooted in most political leaders and parties. Take, for instance, Mr. Imran Khan, with a sizeable and perhaps growing number of supporters and voters, who has, in comparison perhaps equal or higher lack of significance and relevance of Parliament in his style of political leadership. Having attended only 20 out of 447 sittings - or 4.47% of the National Assembly in nearly 4 and a half years of the Assembly, be it critical legislation or political opposition, Mr. Khan seems to harbour the same notion that apart from giving him electoral legitimacy, Parliament is not of much consequence.


Chairman PPP Mr. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addressing a rally

It is not surprising, therefore, that long periods of dictatorship and democratically elected leaders hung up on their personal popularity, have continued to form the context to lack of growth and required political eminence of parliaments in Pakistan. Instead of being the main repository of policy review and advice, Pakistan's legislatures have been taken lightly and political leadership seldom seriously discussed vital issues on foreign policy, economy, terrorism and security and a host of other matters. Yet another year passed without reforms to allow for meaningful input of members and Standing Committees in the country's budget process. Political, economic and security turmoil were dealt with outside the legislatures while they failed in providing workable recommendations on resolving Pakistan's key issues including terrorism and despite months of deliberations, the Parliament yet again failed to achieve a consensus on an effective and comprehensive system of accountability. Legislatures failed to provide for office space and research assistants for elected representatives and unlike the global trend of elected chief executives presenting themselves to be accountable to legislatures through Question Time, 2017 has passed without any of Pakistan's national or provincial legislatures fixing a designated Question Hour for the Prime Minister/Chief Minister.

While legislatures have voted in some important laws at the Federal and Provincial levels, the lack of interest, attention to detail and serious reflection required to be able to do so manifested itself most starkly in one legislation: the Election Bill 2017 in which all parties represented in the two houses, after months of deliberation in Parliamentary committee, unanimously passed at least two such clauses - removal of the legal bar on a person to serve as an office-bearer of a political party if not qualified to be, or disqualified from being, elected as a member of parliament and changes in the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath - that caused a huge furore in the country.

Members and top political leaders alike show little respect for legislative proceedings as attendance frequently falls way below the 25 % mark leading to premature adjournments and even prorogation. Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies and their committees especially failed in undertaking effective oversight of the executive. This failing opened the way for the Superior Judiciary to hold the executive accountable.

While great strides have been made in recent years to greater openness and transparency of legislatures from hitherto closed and inaccessible institutions, the public assessment of performance of legislatures and legislators is still deeply constrained by availability of key data such as legislators' talk time in plenary sittings and attendance and deliberations in committee meetings. However, the Senate of Pakistan tried to bridge some of this gap in 2017. Pioneering praiseworthy trends under the leadership of Chairman Senate Senator Rabbani, the Senate of Pakistan took another initiative of publishing the first of its kind Senate Committees' Journal offering a comprehensive account of performance of each Senate committee during the year.

Judiciary and Populist Tendencies

2017 provided some sad examples of Pakistan's Judiciary succumbing to populist pressures and street sentiments when it gave mostly unwarranted observations in judicial proceedings, which have damaged and hurt the cause of justice.


The five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court for Panama Case

While superior courts in Pakistan have considered, deliberated and decided on many important cases, including the one that ended in disqualification of Mr. Nawaz Sharif, while doing so, they created some major questions of propriety. Serious questions about the credibility and propriety of the process were raised in public based on the remarks of honourable judges during the course of hearings of Constitution Petition No. 29 of 2016, the formation of the JIT and subsequent hearings relating to the conduct of JIT.

The one case alone appears to have provided critical examples of non-observance of judicial propriety and judicial decorum in the proceedings making many legal experts to remark that when both these are absent in a judicial system or not observed, it vitiates the fairness of a trial. To the horror and distress of many Pakistanis, judicial decorum and pedestal of justice were undermined when indecorous remarks as "Sicilian mafia", "throw them out of the window" "trash them in the dust bin" "chacha mamas" "paper good only for selling pakoras" were made during the trial. The reference to 'God Father' in minority judgment also appeared unwarranted and misplaced. In addition, not satisfactorily answering allegations of trying to force the choice of members of the JIT through non-transparent methods such as WhatsApp, inclusion of certain members of the JIT who were allegedly biased and conflicted, involvement of the representatives of the Armed Forces in the form of the serving military officials representing the ISI and MI in the JIT without any apparent merit or justification, led many in Pakistan and internationally to criticise the Courts. The continuing criticism of the conduct and judgement perhaps forced the Courts to issue explanation of the judgement [17] which further led many to comment that justice does not require justifications.

While the Code of Conduct for Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts lays emphasis on a number of aspects of conduct of judiciary, Article II specifically asks that while dispensing justice, a judge should be " strong without being rough, polite without being weak, awe inspires in his warnings and faithful to his word, always preserving calmness, balance and complete detachment, for the formation of correct conclusions in all matters coming before him ." Article V, in particular states that judges should not seek undue publicity nor engage in public controversy and asks that a judge should not seek more [publicity] and " in particular, he should not engage in any public controversy, least of all on a political question, notwithstanding that it involves a question of law ." Article XI states that " no Judge of the superior judiciary shall render support in any manner whatsoever, including taking or administering oath in violation of the oath, of office prescribed in the Third Schedule to the Constitution, to any authority that acquires power otherwise than through the modes envisaged by the Constitution of Pakistan ."[18]

Huge backlog of cases persist and a failed system of justice continues with no reforms in sight while judiciary remains busy with high profile political cases and matters relating to executive domain. As popular political parties mount open assault on recent decisions of the superior judiciary, public trust in judiciary appears to be weakening and judiciary seems to be making unprecedented efforts to publically defend itself. Superior courts will need to enforce their own code of conduct more rigorously and guard their prestige more vigilantly.

Media

In the midst of a politically charged atmosphere, Pakistan's news media achieved and exacerbated new heights of political polarisation in Pakistan. That objectivity is all but an elusive ideal, newspapers and news channels became openly partisan without publically declaring their support and claiming neutrality.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of news media in Pakistan is its fast receding reliance on verifiable and researched facts and instead an almost blatant use of opinions dressed up as analysis. As a result, hearsay, conspiracy theories, blatant mudslinging and character assassination have taken centre stage on the news media platforms. There are, of course, a few notable exceptions, which continue to adhere to high standards of journalism despite the heavy odds.

There have been increased reports, which still lack solid evidence, of foreign money being used to influence the content of electronic media both in the news and entertainment. While law of the land expressly and clearly prohibits foreign funding to media, the reports need to be thoroughly investigated. Any foreign funds used directly or indirectly in influencing the media content one way or the other should be strictly dealt with according to the law.

Social Media has become a new weapon of insult and disinformation as political parties and many non-political actors deploy huge social media teams to control opinion formation. Serious concerns are expressed about possible abuse of social media by organized groups and foreign powers to influence the upcoming General Election.


References

[1] Nawaz Sharif steps down as PM after SC's disqualification verdict - Dawn, July 28, 2017
https://www.dawn.com/news/1348191/nawaz-sharif-steps-down-as-pm-after-scs-disqualification-verdict

[2] PILDAT Monitor on Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan | Jun 2017:
http://www.pildat.org/eventsdel.asp?detid=941

[3] F. S. Aijazuddin, An Unburied Lion - Op-ed in Dawn, August 10, 2017:
https://www.dawn.com/news/1350643/an-unburied-lion

[5] Please see PILDAT's Monthly Monitors on Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan during 2017

[7] For details, please see COAS briefs senators on national security Dawn, December 19, 2017:
https://www.dawn.com/news/1377559

[10] Please see Time Line of the Sit-In in PILDAT Monitor on Civil Military Relations, November 2017:
http://pildat.org/eventsdel.asp?detid=957#heading1

[11] For details, please see Army calls for restraint, dialogue on August 20, 2014:
http://nation.com.pk/20-Aug-2014/army-calls-for-restraint-dialogue

[12] An overview of the crisis that forced the government to capitulate, Dawn, November 27, 2017:
https://www.dawn.com/news/1373200

[13] Press Conference of Mr. Khadim Hussain Rizvi, November 27, 2017, Islamabad Dharna ENDS Announcement, YOUTUBE, November 27, 2017, as accessed on December 04, 2017 at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cn_RJ1efNE

[14] DAWN Editorial: Capitulation, DAWN, November 28, 2017, as accessed on December 04, 2017 at
https://epaper.dawn.com/DetailNews.php?StoryText=28_11_2017_008_001

[15] The Dawn story of October 06, 2016 titled Exclusive: Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military which was denied both by Government and the Military, became a major controversy and cause for an investigation known as " Dawn Leaks." The issue of 'Dawn Leaks' Inquiry hit a new high on April 29, 2017, after a letter of the Prime Minister Office on the Dawn Leaks Inquiry Committee appeared on the social media and communicated the Prime Minister's approval of the withdrawal of the portfolio of the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi and proceedings under Efficiency and Discipline Rules 1973 against Rao Tehseen Ali, Principal Information Officer (PIO) of the Ministry of Information. The same day, DG ISPR Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor tweeted ' Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board. Notification is rejected .' The Tweet of DG ISPR, was finally withdrawn on May 10, 2017 through an ISPR Press Release in which it was clarified that the Tweet was 'not aimed at any government office or person.' The press release also went on to reiterate its 'firm commitment and continued resolve to uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and support the democratic process.' The Interior Ministry issued a notification in the Inquiry Committee Report on the same day in which the noticeable new entry compared to the leaked letter of the Prime Minister Office of April 29, 2017 was the endorsement of the 'action already taken by the Federal Government against Senator Pervaiz Rashid.'
https://www.dawn.com/news/1288350/exclusive-act-against-militants-or-face-international-isolation-civilians-tell-military

[16] For details, please see PTI intra-party poll: Imran Khan elected chairman with huge margin , Dawn, June 13, 2017:
https://www.dawn.com/news/1339265

[17] Imran Khan free of Panama-like suspicion: SC judge, Dawn, December 16, 2017:
https://www.dawn.com/news/1376956

[18] Code of Conduct for Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts:
http://www.supremecourt.gov.pk/web/page.asp?id=435