LAHORE - Constitutional experts have divergent opinion on the question of whether the president of Pakistan, elected by four provincial assemblies, the National Assembly and the Senate, is head of the state or a civil servant.

Former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice (r) Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, holds the opinion that president of Pakistan will have to stay away from active politics for two years after completion of his constitutional term since he was a civil servant within the meanings of Article 260 of the Constitution.

The said article defines the ‘Service of Pakistan’ and specifies some public offices, including those of the prime minister and the chief minister, which don’t fall under the category of civil servants. But it does exclude the offices of the president and the governor.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in his judgement in Asghar Khan case, has already declared the president a civil servant in the service of Pakistan in the light of Article 260 of the Constitution, which has sparked a controversy over the exact nature of the president’s office.

“The omission of the office of president from Article 260 is deliberate because of the fact that president is head of the state and could not be considered in the ‘Service of Pakistan’ like civil servants,” says veteran lawyer SM Zafar. He also believes that president can take part in politics after retirement because he is not a civil servant.

“He [the president] is head of the state and not a civil servant,” he argued while talking to The Nation. Zafar opined that the president could take part in politics even when he is holding the office.

“How can you declare the president a civil servant when all judges of the superior judiciary, including the chief justice of Pakistan as well as senior civil servants, are appointed under his (the president) name,” argued another senior lawyer and constitutional expert, Dr Khalid Ranjha, while speaking on the issue in question. Ranjha affirmed that while the court might have a different opinion about it, he was sure that president was head of the state and not a civil servant by any definition.

He further stated that the president could not be declared a civil servant only because he gets pension and other benefits after completion of his tenure.

Senior PPP leader and constitutional expert, Senator Raza Rabbani, who headed the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms during the previous government’s tenure, does not agree to the supposition that there is any ambiguity in the Constitution regarding the office of the president. According to him, the Constitution clearly describes the president as head of the state, so there is no question of his being a civil servant. “This was the reason that the parliamentary body did not deliberate on the issue while suggesting changes in the Constitution under the 18th Amendment,” he told this scribe, adding that under the parliamentary form of government, the president is titular head of the state who acts on advice of the prime minister.

When his attention was drawn towards Article 260 of the Constitution which does not create any exemption for the office of the president as not being in the service of Pakistan like that it does for the prime minister and other offices, Rabbani argued that mere omission of the office of the president from the list of specified offices does not lead one to believe that he (the president) was a civil servant.

He, however, said the issue was debateable, wide open for discussion.

But the fact remains that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has already declared the president a civil servant in its decision in Asghar Khan case. Going by the spirit of the court verdict, it could be safely assumed that president of Pakistan has the distinction of being head of the state who is also a civil servant, elected by the four provincial legislatures as well as the upper and lower houses of the Parliament.

On the other hand, neither the prime minister nor the chief minister, elected only by one assembly, are not civil servants and hence can take part in politics after completion of their constitutional terms.