In a scathing rejoinder to a letter from President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday made clear his “disappointment” at the “blatantly partisan” nature of the missive, stressing that it had partly read as a press release of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Last week, the president had written to the prime minister over the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s decision to delay polls in Punjab from April 30 to Oct. 8 over financial and security concerns. In his letter, Alvi had asked Sharif to direct all relevant institutions to assist the ECP in holding elections on time as per the directions of the Supreme Court “to avoid further complications.”
In his five-page response, the prime minister described the president’s letter as “blatantly partisan,” stressing that parts of it had read like a press release of the PTI, “whose one-sided, anti-government views you continue to openly espouse, notwithstanding your constitutional oath/office of President.” Noting that Alvi had similarly acted in a partisan manner on several occasions in the past, including by ordering the dissolution of the National Assembly on April 3 and not administering oath of office to the prime minister.
“Despite the foregoing and several other instances, where you actively worked towards undermining a constitutionally elected government, I have made all-out efforts to maintain a good working relationship with you. However, the contents of your letter, its tone, and language have compelled me to respond to it,” wrote Sharif. On Alvi’s criticism of alleged violations of fundamental and human rights of politicians and political workers, he said that the “substantive and procedural due process guaranteed under the Constitution, under Articles 4 and 10A, is being afforded to all.” Stressing that all actions taken by law enforcement agencies were being taken in accordance with law to maintain law and order, he said “nearly all” aggrieved persons had already approached appropriate legal forums.
“Regrettably and ostensibly due to your party allegiance, you have failed to note the sheer violation of laws, contumacious disregard of court orders, attacking the law enforcement agencies, damaging public property, attempts to create chaos, civil and political unrest, and in short, to bring the country to the brink of economic default and civil war by the PTI,” the letter continued, adding that the image of Pakistan had been “tarnished” globally by the “complete disregard of the laws and the Constitution by the PTI.”
Sharif also questioned the president’s silence on the conduct of Imran Khan for his “aggressive, rather militant, attitude of a political order in complete defiance of court orders.” Claiming the government had ensured complete freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution, subject to “reasonable restrictions,” Sharif regretted that Alvi had never raised his voice on similar concerns when the PTI was in power. Providing examples of the PTI’s tenure, the premier quoted reports from various media organizations detailing the clampdown on media by the previous government. “There are several reports of international human rights organizations, which reflect poorly on the track record of the previous government on severe violations of human rights and the fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan. All of this, unfortunately, escaped your attention,” he wrote.
The prime minister also detailed the “witch hunt” carried out by the PTI against its political opposition, specifically naming the case filed against Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah. “Mr. President, the Constitution does not vest any power in or assigns any functions to the president where the president can seek explanation from the government or the prime minister. The only reason I am responding to your letter is because I want to bring your partisan attitude and actions on record and to set the record of our government straight,” he emphasized.
Claiming the president had announced dates for elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa “at the behest of the PTI,” Sharif noted that Alvi had not raised any concerns about the “mala fide” dissolution of the provincial assemblies “at the behest of, and to satisfy the ego of, the chairman PTI.” Alleging that the assemblies were dissolved solely to blackmail the governments at the center and other two provinces, the letter noted that Alvi had not taken any note of the effect of conducting elections in Punjab and KP prior to the general elections, noting free and fair elections under Article 218(3) might not be possible if elected governments were already in place. “This constitutional distortion has completely escaped your attention, which is quite saddening, given the role of the head of the state that the Constitution assigns to the president,” the letter added.
Claiming that the ECP’s announcement of Oct. 8 for polls in Punjab took into account “ground realities,” Sharif emphasized that it was ultimately the ECP’s decision to assess whether the circumstances were conducive for free and fair elections. “I do, however, wish to point out that you did not object to the use of language and a rather aggressive attitude of the federal ministers of the previous government, who actively attempted to undermine the authority and credibility of the ECP,” he wrote.
On Alvi seeking “meaningful consultation” with the prime minister on the basis of Article 46 and Rule 15(5)(b) of the Rules of Business, 1973, the prime minister said this was “out of place.” Noting Article 48(1) required the president to act on and in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or the prime minister, he wrote that in “very limited instances,” the president acts on his discretion. Article 46 and Rule 15(5)(b), he wrote, merely require the president to be informed. “Nothing more and nothing less.”
Concluding his letter by maintaining that he was “fully aware” of his duties, the prime minister asserted that his government was fully committed to preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution. “However, our government is also determined to ensure that no one is allowed to violate the law, create unrest and attempt to cause irreparable harm to the state of Pakistan,” he said. “I want to further assure you that our government will thwart any effort to undermine the constitutionally elected government,” the letter added.