Heated NA session as govt, opposition advocate Article 6 from different perspectives

Published May 13, 2024
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and opposition leader Omar Ayub speak in the National Assembly session on Monday. — DawnNewsTV
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and opposition leader Omar Ayub speak in the National Assembly session on Monday. — DawnNewsTV

The National Assembly on Monday saw heated exchanges as opposition leader Omar Ayub and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif traded barbs over the former’s suggestion that violators of the Constitution should be tried for treason, to which the latter countered, in strong words, that accountability should begin with former dictator Ayub Khan.

Article 6 of the Constitution says: “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.”

The punishment for high treason is death or lifetime imprisonment, according to the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973.

In today’s NA session, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (NA) Omar Ayub began his address by quoting articles of the Constitution and calling for security agencies to return to the bounds mandated to them.

Criticising last week’s “political” press conference by the director general (DG) of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Ayub said: “Security agencies cannot indulge in politics as per the Constitution,” adding that they were “tools of the state, not the state itself”.

Quoting Article 7 of the Constitution, he said it did not include security institutions within its ambit of defining the state.

“The state is the federal government, the national and provincial assemblies […] and bodies who can collect taxes,” Ayub clarified. “These agencies serve the state, they cannot be the state.”

Citing Article 203 — the oath of an officer— he called the DG ISPR’s press conference “interference in the political realm”, which he said was only for elected officials and political parties.

“Security institutions cannot indulge in politics as per this Constitution. This press conference should not have happened.”

He then quoted Article 5, which is about loyalty to the state. “This is the basic duty of every citizen of Pakistan,” Ayub said, adding that all Pakistanis, including military officers, were bound to follow Article 5. He added that the armed specifically took an oath to this effect.

“This is the one red line that Pakistanis cannot cross.”

The opposition leader then read aloud Article 6, saying that the Constitution was clear. “Constitutionally, every institution has its limits,” he reiterated.

“The country will progress if every institution works within its limits.”

Reading aloud Article 19, which is about free speech, he decried the ban on social media platform X and media censorship, saying, “This speech might not even be being broadcast.”

To this, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq reassured the opposition leader that it was.

The opposition leader demanded an independent judicial commission on the events of May 9, 2023, with the presentation of CCTV footage of the riots as a key condition.

“The truth must prevail,” he said. “We are talking about the law and the Constitution.”

Quoting the ISPR’s press conference, where the military spokesperson said that inquiry commissions should be formed for prior issues such as the PTI’s 2014 sit-in, Ayub demanded that the reports for the Ojhri Camp disaster, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission, the Army Public School inquiry and the Abbottabad commission should also be released to the public.

Ayub then brought up the letter sent to the Supreme Judicial Council by six Islamabad High Court Judges, which alleged that security agencies were meddling in judicial affairs.

Using the letter as an example of ignoring limits, Ayub said, “They (the judges) highlighted interference by the security agencies in both theirs and their lower benches. Firecrackers were thrown into their houses, while intelligence personnel broke into judges’ homes and harassed people.”

Ayub said that the cases allegedly meddled with by the intelligence agencies all related to the PTI, including charges against party founder Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi, as well as senior party figures and party members and supporters.

The opposition leader again demanded an independent judicial commission on May 9, maintaining that “May 9 was an excuse and Imran Khan was the target”. He denounced the government’s stance on May 9 as “victim-blaming”.

Defence minister’s remarks cause commotion

Responding to the opposition leader’s points, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif referenced Ayub’s mentioning of Article 6, saying that the PTI government had tried to carry out proceedings against himself under the same provision.

Asif said he completely supported the demand for Article 6 proceedings against violators of the Constitution.

The minister subsequently said in startling comments: “The body of the false Field Marshall Ayub Khan, who instituted the first martial law [in the country], should also be dug out and hanged as per Article 6. Begin from there and the height should be the night when the Constitution was violated and the assembly was dissolved so the no-confidence motion could not pass.”

Asif said he supported the opposition leader’s demands but they should apply “to everyone one by one”.

The minister reiterated that Article 6 proceedings should begin, adding that the Parliament’s members agreed to this as well but it should start with the former military dictator.

The minister’s remarks prompted commotion and uproar from the opposition benches even as the NA speaker called for calm and for lawmakers to let Asif resume his speech.

Resuming his address, the minister said Ayub Khan was “the first to violate his oath” and turned the direction of the country. “The country has still not been able to stablise,” he added.

“Dig out the body of the one who is the root of all these problems, constitutional violations and lawlessness and hang him,” Asif said, prompting a renewed ruckus from the opposition benches.

The minister appeared visibly frustrated at one point and burst out at the NA speaker to maintain order in the house and allow him to speak. Asif then began to criticise the PTI and party founder Imran Khan even as shouts of “Form 47” were uttered from the opposition side.

However, Asif later expressed his respect for Gohar Ayub and hailed his loyalty to PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif.

Former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf was found guilty of high treason by a special court in December 2019 and handed a death sentence under Article 6.

It was the first time in Pakistan’s history that a military chief was declared guilty of high treason and handed a death sentence.



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