Every now and then demands of bringing someone to trial under Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan are voiced, quite recently for instance; a unanimous resolution of Sindh Assembly to bring a prosecution against Altaf Hussain under Article 6 . Before this, it was Mahmood Achakzai, and before that it was the Prime Minister of the country himself. In short, it seems that Article 6 is a catch all provision in the Constitution, under which anybody can be booked, whatever the crime maybe.

In fact, the de jure ambit of Article 6 is meagre compared to what is made of it.

Article 6 of the Constitution is the defence mechanism of the Constitution, as with almost all other Constitutions, without it the Constitution would be inherently unworkable. A trial under Article 6 is bought for abrogating, subverting, suspending or holding the constitution in abeyance, or for that matter, conspiring or attempting to do so.

Article 6 does not deal with sedition; sedition is punishable under the Pakistan Penal Code. Sedition can be defined as conduct that inclines towards insurrection against a valid established order. This can be in the form of condemnation of the creation of the State, and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty, or by defiling the national flag of Pakistan or by bringing into hatred or contempt, or exciting disaffection towards, the Federal or Provincial Government. The majority of such offences are punishable under sections 123 and 124 and subsections thereof of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Sedition is, in that sense, positively different from high treason.

It would begin to become comprehensible then that, disregarding the merits of the complaints, whether it were the words of Altaf Hussain in his 22nd August speech or those of Mahmood Achakzai in the National Assembly, they can only be booked under the sections of the PPC, and not under Article 6 .

Those entrusted with legislation by the state should be expected to comprehend this.

'General, I'm sure you're aware of Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan'- these were words uttered by Bhutto in his first meeting with General Zia after his imprisonment. These were also the words that had him hung, because General Zia took these words to be a threat of death and flipped- or so it is rumored.

Article 6 was never exercised against General Zia.

Nearly four decades later, a dictator was finally put on trial under Article 6 for subverting the Constitution. The trial was akin to carrying water to the sea, utterly useless. Nothing came out of it and Chairman Senate Raza Rabbanni reacted by calling for scrapping Article 6 altogether.

De facto, the ambit of Article 6 is limited to rhetoric and political vocabulary. Even when it is usually understood to be exercisable against anybody who's acted against national interests, it has been ineffective at preventing what it was brought into existence to prevent. Our Constitution has been abrogated and subverted, let alone convictions, there haven't even been staid trials under Article 6 .

Perhaps, one reason Article 6 has proved to be so inefficacious is because anyone aiding or abetting an act of high treason is also to be found guilty of high treason in principle. This essentially means that everyone that served under an abrogated Constitution, whether judges, generals or parliamentarians is guilty of Article 6 .

When the real contours of Article 6 are realized, it would, indeed, surprise.