The constitution is the foremost legal document that contains a set of fundamental principles according to which a state manages to run its primary affairs. It necessarily defines the status and role of premier organs of the state like the executive, the legislature, the judiciary etc. It is the very ‘Grundnorm’ that forms an underlying basis for the entire legal system in a polity. It enumerates the basic obligations of the state towards its subjects and vice versa. Therefore, both the governors and the governed are supposed to equally uphold and abide by this supreme law of the land in the interest of a better political and socio-economic order.
On the other hand, the political culture is a set of some beliefs, attitudes and values that shapes the behaviour of individuals in a particular political system. It necessarily determines both the political ideals and operating norms in any polity. One hardly can make any qualitative or comparative analysis of the political system of a country without having an adequate knowledge of its political culture. The democratic political system of the UK cannot be fully understood without evaluating the entire formulation and evolution of the constitutional conventions and political customs prevailing in the country for a long time. In the absence of a written constitution, it is only the political culture of the UK that ensures and explains phenomena like the supremacy of the Parliament, collective responsibility of the cabinet and independence of the judiciary etc.
Since its independence, Pakistan has successfully achieved many constitutional milestones in the form of Objective Resolution and three full-fledged constitutions. The Constitution of 1973 is an exhaustive legal document that comprehensively describes the domains and functions of the institutions like the presidency, prime minster, parliament and the superior judiciary. Likewise, besides ensuring certain fundamental rights to the citizens of Pakistan, it also explains the important principles of state policy and respective domains of the federating units. Presently, the constitution of Pakistan is generally referred as one of the best-written constitutions in the world. But, regrettably, we can hardly make any claim about a quality dispensation of democracy and good governance in Pakistan.
The primary reason for the political failures of Pakistan can necessarily be traced in its current political settings. In fact, we have somehow miserably failed in evolving and introducing any dynamic or healthy political culture in Pakistan. Consequently, certain authoritarian, undemocratic, and totalitarian tendencies have deeply penetrated the body politic. Democrats tend to be the dictators and the dictators have been pretending to be democrats. Political parties have become ‘family limited companies’. The government prefers the APC’s over the parliament for making consultations and discussions on crucial national issues. The opposition chooses the roads and containers for settling its dispute with the government. Law-enforcing agencies can aggressively shoot to kill dozen of protesters at will and yet the provincial chief executive doesn’t feel any moral or legal responsibility for the same. Pakistan is a country where anybody can ask an elected prime minister to step down on the basis of some unsubstantiated allegations.
The political system and democratic institutions of the west, namely the US and Britain are a model for the countries in the world that still aspire for similar quality of a political dispensation. The UK has no formal written constitution and with 7 articles and 4400 words, the constitution of the US is the shortest written constitution in the world. It is quite ironic that, despite having the longest written constitution in the world, India has not able to get rid of constitutional controversies like that of the ‘basic structure of the constitution’. In fact, one of the greatest tragedies with Pakistan has been that we had been considering and using the constitution as the only tool to rectify all the major political maladies of the country.
The framers of the constitution inserted the Article 6 in the constitution to save this political system from any possible extra-constitutional onslaught. However, in the face of strong Bonaparte-like tendencies prevailing in the system, this provision has also miserably failed to deter any military dictators from hijacking democracy in Pakistan. Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution contain some extensive and rigorous pre-conditions for becoming a member of parliament in Pakistan. Yet we have hardly witnessed any ‘Sadiq and Ameen’ in our parliament. Instead, there are a lot of countries in the world that currently have some competent and honest MP’s even without such pre-conditions. Similarly, despite having a constitutional mandate to this effect, Pakistan has yet not been successful in adequately promoting the local government institutions merely because this system is not in line with the vested interests of the political parties in the country.
As a matter of fact, there has been a common tendency of proposing, demanding, and introducing some instant and tailor-made amendments in the Constitution for a long time. Pakistan has a unique distinction in the world of having four constitutions, and twenty-one amendments in its last constitution, within a short period of life spanning 68 years. It is also the land where a constitution becomes unworkable after every decade. The constitution in Pakistan has somehow become a periodical based on some self-serving legal fictions instead of universally recognised principle in constitutional jurisprudence.
We should evolve a healthy political culture in Pakistan, which could foster a respect for the rule of law and constitutionalism, and generate a strong dislike for any foul play and corrupt practices in the country. In fact, it is not the constitution that ensures a better political culture but, instead, it is always a healthy political culture that helps create a conducive environment in which the constitution and other laws are absolutely observed. A poor political culture can, by no means, give rise to a progressive political order.
The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.