Traitor vs traitor

Published April 5, 2022

THE casual way in which epithets like ‘traitor’ and ‘treason’ are thrown about in our political discourse has, over time, greatly diminished the severity of the crimes they were meant to describe. Instead of being markers of absolute shame, as they were intended to be, their over-usage has rendered them little more than everyday slurs intended for people whose politics or ideas one may not agree with.

There was a time when these labels would be reserved for nationalist parties from smaller provinces, to be cynically slapped onto those who dared question the status quo. This labelling was done so that any voices critical of the state narrative would be kept out of mainstream political discourse. The PTM, a youth-led movement that has continued to agitate peacefully for the rights of the Pakhtun people despite being accused again and again of treachery, will be a familiar example.

The reprehensible habit of discrediting public representatives by questioning their loyalty to kin and country has now slipped into the mainstream. It will have lasting consequences on the health of our democracy if it is not checked immediately. The air has been thick with noxious allegations and counter-accusations of treachery since last week, triggered by the PTI spuriously accusing opposing parties of conspiring with foreign powers to bring its government down.

Read: Democracy is dead. Long live the prime minister

The line was crossed, however, when these same allegations — which have yet to be meaningfully substantiated — were used to invoke Article 5, imply that the vote of no-confidence was the product of disloyalty to the state, and ride roughshod over a simple parliamentary procedure. Not to be outdone, the opposition — stinging from the outgoing government’s devious (and likely unconstitutional) last-minute ploy — reacted with counter-accusations that the prime minister, deputy speaker and all others who aided the decision to throw out the motion of no-confidence had committed ‘high treason’ and should be tried under Article 6.

This is ridiculous hyperbole from both sides of the political divide. High treason is an unpardonable crime, punishable by death; the gravest offence a citizen can commit against their country. Article 6, which defines an act of high treason under the Constitution, describes it as direct tampering with the Constitution itself, such as repealing or suspending it.

Read: The ambit of Article 6

Misinterpreting or violating the Constitution is not ‘high treason’. That our leaders level the charge at each other in such an offhand manner betrays both a lack of understanding of the law, as well as the fact that most simply do not comprehend that it exists to safeguard the supremacy and inviolability of the Constitution, which many of them seem to have little regard for. It is telling of how seriously our civilian leadership actually takes high treason if one considers the fact that they have never been able to bring to justice those anti-democratic elements who have actually committed the crime.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2022

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