Worst Attack on Pakistani Armed Forces

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By Afshain Afzal

Pakistan has not yet fully come out of the shock of the 9 May attacks on the Pakistan Army’s installations by anti-state mob when another attack has taken place on its sovereignty and national integrity on 17 August 2023. This time Supreme Command of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, in a most helpless state, communicated the Pakistani nation through his official Twitter account, “As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 as I disagreed with these laws. I asked my staff to return the bills unsigned within the stipulated time to make them ineffective. I confirmed from them many times that whether they have been returned & was assured that they were. However, I have found out today that my staff undermined my will and command. As Allah knows all, He will forgive IA. But I ask forgiveness from those who will be effected.”

Media reports quote a tweet from the official account of Pakistan Head of State, President Arif Alvi claiming that he has not signed a bill moved by the National Assembly to the Senate and further referred to the standing committee of the Senate and returned back by the President within due time as he disagreed certain clauses with passing of the bill. The statement by President is sufficient that the amendment subject bill The Official Secret Act, 1923 has not become law. The matter apparently stands resolved but, irrespective of the fact whether the Official Secret Act has been passed or not, it is not so simple that the office of the President, our Parliamentarians and the Civil Servants associated with the affairs of the State can easily escape from the responsibility of such a great blunder at national level which has an international repercussion. One wonders if we are not forgetting that Official Secret Act is equally applicable to the President and all those working with him at his office.

According to the Gazette of Pakistan registered No M 302/ L7646, published on 18 August 2023, the Amendments in Official Secrets Act, 1923 (XIX of 1923) assented by the President with effect from 17th August 2023. However, the President of Pakistan denies having signed the amendments claiming. “I disagreed with these laws”. Hence, the bills carried bogus signatures of the President. If we peep into the legal framework, Article 75 of the Constitution allows a 10-day timeframe to return the bill to the Senate if he disagrees. The law minister claimed “the Official Secrets Act Bill was sent on 8 August 2023 while the president purposely delayed the assent.” However, the statements of Waqar Ahmed, Secretary to the President are quite clear and must be investigated by the Judicial Commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and comprise of senior judges of Supreme Court. According to Waqar Ahmed, ”The Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023, was received by the Presidency on 8 August 2023 after the official hours, so it was forwarded to the president on 9 August" and “Files related to the bill were not returned to the Secretary's office until 21 August 2023.” Since the bill was received after office hours and put to the President on 9 August so allowed 10-day timeframe to return the bill to the Senate if President disagrees starts from 9 August and expires after office hours on 19 August 2023. The fact cannot be denied that the Gazette of Pakistan refers, “Act of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) deemed to have been assented by the President with effect from 17th August, 2023,” while the Act further to amend the Official Secrets Act, 1923 bears the date of 18 August 2023. Hence, a grave crime against sovereignty and integrity has been committed under Official Secret Act and must be investigated.

The President’s Secretariat issued a notification, "The services of Mr Waqar Ahmed, Secretary to the President, are no more required and are surrendered to the Establishment Division, immediately" to hush up the issue but we should not forget that the Official Secrets (Amendment) Act, 2023 as well as 1923, especially Clause (5) including sub-clause (b), (c) and (d) provides: (b) use of information in his possession for the benefit of any foreign power or in other manner prejudicial to safety of the state; (c) retain the sketch, plan, model, article, note, document in his possession or control when he has no right to retain it, or when it is contrary to his duty to retain it, or willfully fails to comply with all directions issued by lawful authority with regard to return or disposal, and (d) fails to reasonable care of, or so conducts himself as to endanger the safety of, the sketch, plan, model, article, note, document, secret official code or password or information; he shall be guilty of an offense under this section. The Act also provides that those who are involved in the process are guilty of an offense under this definition which is imprisonment of which may exist.

It is important to comprehend that Article 243 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, provides, “The Federal Government shall have control and command of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President. On the other hand, if we recall, the Official Secrets (Amendment) Act, 2023, was pending before the Senate Standing Committee for a debate to pass the proposed amendments in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (XIX of 1923). The bill has national as well as international repercussions and seems to have foreign agenda and interests, hence, it demands that it should be dealt with collective wisdom in the light of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 and prevailing enforced laws and codes. It is time that the proposed Amendments should be declared null and void while Supreme Court must take suo motu action to save country from the crisis.

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