PAT’s Lahore protest and the Karachi police encounters apparently have nothing in common, except that the protest was against the killing of eight PAT workers by police firing, and the incidents in Karachi were of men alleged to have been killed by the police in fake encounters. However, the remarks by Pakistan Tehrik Insaf chief Imran Khan and AML leader Sh Rashid Ahmad exposed an underlying commonality, that the Constitution was coming under strain, and showing itself as inadequate.

While Imran and Sheikh Rashid came in for almost universal obloquy for their remarks, their critique reflected an uncomfortable thing: the legislature is merely a talking shop, and is desperately seeking relevance between elections. It should not be thought that this applies only to the Pakistani Parliament. It is virtually a universal problem, apart from acting as a sort of electoral college for the executive branch, in that it provides the politicians who head it, Parliament is essentially a talking-shop. The accountability function is supposed to be exercised through this talk, and even a Prime Minister, the late Muhammad Khan Junejo, said that he made it a point to attend Question Hour as frequently as possible because it provided an excellent opportunity to find out what the government was doing. One implication, which Imran may not be able to fend off, is that someone who does not avail such opportunities is likely to consider Parliament useless.

It is also interesting that Imran cursed Parliament for passing a law which allowed a “corrupt person” (Mian Nawaz Sharif) to be elected head of a political party. And the irony is that later on, PTI used the same law to keep on its Secretary-General, Jehangir Tareen, when the Supreme Court had unseated him for a similar offence. The resolution condemning Imran and Sh Rasheed accused them of ‘disrespecting’ Parliament. This is odd, for both are by no means neophytes.

As the Parliament is sovereign (technically, Allah is, but that sovereignty is to be exercised, says the preamble, through the chosen representatives of the people), that would mean ‘disrespecting’ the entire Constitution. For the Parliament, does not just make the laws, but also appoints the higher judiciary, which interprets them, and supervises the executive (both by providing its apex and holding its lower echelons to account), which carries them out.

The killings in Karachi are not really about whether the dead are guilty or not. They are about due process. First came the case of Intezar, who was shot at a police checkpoint. He may have tried to avoid stopping because he had with him a girl he could not explain, but that is not a capital offence. Then came the shooting of Naqeebullah Mahsud, over which an inquiry led to the suspension of the SSP Malir, Rao Anwar. He defended that shooting on the ground that Naqeeb was a terrorist from the tribal areas. True, he was from Makeen tehsil of South Waziristan, which had been a terrorist centre, but there was an element of racial profiling involved. After all, not only Pukhtoons are terrorists. Not even all those from the tribal areas.

And even after that, the bloodletting did not stop. Maqsood was killed, allegedly by accomplices trying to help him escape. He was accused of mobile snatching. He was shot in the back. It seems as if some cop in Karachi had seen a bad Indian gangster movie, in which the police seems to routinely bump off criminals. The alleged crime does not carry the death sentence, which appears to have been administered.

In all three cases, there is the suspicion that the police thought it was judge, jury, and executioner. These functions are carefully separated under democratic constitutions. In South Asia, the judge and jury are combined, but the judge never conducts the execution, though he has to issue the final warrants. In the grand scheme of the criminal justice system, the police have a relatively small role, that of assisting the prosecutor. They are not responsible for punishing anyone. Individual police officers may serve in the Prisons Department (the IG Prisons is always a police officer of the rank of DIG), but the institution does not punish.

The institution is supposed to monopolise force, or rather (through the Arms Act and the arms licensing system) maintain the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence. That might explain the problem, for the Sindh Police has been sharing law enforcement in Karachi with the Rangers. Though the Rangers are supposed to be a Civil Armed Force under the federal Interior Ministry, it is officered by regular Army officers on deputation. As they will return to the regular Army after deputation, and as the Army made their selection, they depend for their career prospects on the Army, and owe it loyalty, even if they are temporarily serving under the federal government directly. Recently, the Rangers got away with murder. Rangers killed a civilian in 2011 in a Karachi park. This caused public outrage and led to the trial of the Rangers involved, who were convicted and given life imprisonment. A couple of weeks ago, those convicted received a presidential pardon after the Sindh government made a recommendation to that effect. Whatever the effect on the Rangers (who are still deployed in Karachi), it seems to have a bad impact on the Sindh police, or rather precisely the Karachi police. It should go to the credit of the Rangers that they have not been involved in this situation.

That the rule of law needs to be enforced is not just mandated by the Constitution, but by any system of government. There are some differences between the present arrangement and the Islamic system of government. The Islamic jurisprudence and legal system provide for legislation being a prerogative of the Almighty, and only being unfolded from the sources of the Quran and Sunnah. Pakistan’s constitution provides for lawmaking by the assemblies. This conflict has been papered over by the provision that no law shall be repugnant to Islam, with the Council of Islamic Ideology mechanism to ensure this, but there has been enough space left for the Constitution to be rejected by some scholars as unIslamic precisely because of this. One implicit argument has been that the Constitution works.

However, if it breaks down, and fails to provide that rule of law, which is essential for any system to work, then the Constitution becomes subject to question. Questions then inevitably arise. One would be about whether the failure is because the people cannot operate it. A claim that that is the reason is a colonialist perspective and begs the question as to what system does suit the people. The Islamic system? Does that suit the genius of the people? Apart from what suits the people, is one of simple workability. A new arrangement would have to deliver certain things. If the people are to venture into the unknown, they must at least know what they want to get.

While Imran and Sheikh Rashid came in for almost universal obloquy for their remarks, their critique reflected an uncomfortable thing: the legislature is merely a talking shop...