Article 245: questions remain

Updated Jul 29 2014

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If indeed Article 245 is linked to the PTI’s Aug 14 rally, then has the PML-N unwittingly made the military the final arbiter in politics yet again? — File photo
If indeed Article 245 is linked to the PTI’s Aug 14 rally, then has the PML-N unwittingly made the military the final arbiter in politics yet again? — File photo

Now that Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan has deigned to inform the public about his government’s alleged thinking behind the invocation of Article 245 of the Constitution, it is worth examining the substance of what Mr Nisar has claimed.

According to the interior minister, the decision to draft in the army to augment the law-enforcement resources of Islamabad was taken before the launch of Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan and was done keeping in mind past experience with counter-insurgency campaigns and counterterrorism operations in the cities.

In addition, not only was the army consulted before the federal government invoked Article 245, but had been involved in the decision to invoke it.

To begin with, now that Article 245 has been invoked and the army is to be drafted in to boost the security of Islamabad from Aug 1, there are two aspects of its operation that ought to be clarified: one, the specific duration — and it must be limited — that the army will be deployed; and two, that fundamental rights and the operation of the superior court’s suo motu powers will not be curbed.

If neither of those two conditions hold, then everything that flows from the invocation of Article 245 will be questionable and poisoned by illegitimacy as far as the public interest is concerned. But consider also the total inadequacy of the justification for invoking Article 245 offered by the interior minister.

If there was a weeks-old understanding that Islamabad was under acute threat both because of the operation in North Waziristan and the growing presence of militants in the city, then why has it taken until now to act? And even now, why is Article 245 only invoked from Aug 1? What possible tactical sense could it make to give the terrorists and militants a public warning of several days to either melt away or attack immediately when, in the government’s own telling, the capital’s defences are not as strong as they ought to be at present?

What also about the rest of Pakistan’s cities and urban areas, several of which have suffered much more violence over the years than Islamabad? To talk about the need for army-led security reinforcements in one city with already significant civilian law-enforcement and intelligence resources while the rest of the country where the civilian law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus is known to be much weaker simply makes no security or policy sense.

There is another aspect to the latest vexing move by the PML-N government: in invoking Article 245, the PML-N has boosted the perception of indispensability and profile of the military in civilian domain — precisely the opposite of what the democratic project needs. If indeed Article 245 is linked to the PTI’s Aug 14 rally, then has the PML-N unwittingly made the military the final arbiter in politics yet again?

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2014