By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
One of the leading Pakistani columnists and author Yasmeen Ali recently wrote a column titled “Who is running Pakistan?” Keeping the objective conditions in Pakistan today I thought that the headline has been miss spelt and it must be: “Who is ruining Pakistan?” I was wrong.
Yasmeen had taken pains to put forward the proposition as to who is and who should be running it. Being an academic she rightly observed that ideally it should be the government duly elected by the people, of the people and for the people. Then she added new word in dictionary of political science and she says that Pakistan instead of being democratic in nature has turned into ‘dynastocratic’ for all practical purposes. True. Indeed. Pakistan’s position today is both paradoxical and enigmatic. On paper it is democracy and we have an elected government in power but far from it. The man who won the last election with substantive majority and ruled Pakistan for four years has been shown the door on charges of mega corruption by the superior court that has power to interpret the constitution but not the jurisdiction to over ride the wishes of the elected representatives of the people who universally in a democratic polity are sole arbiters. Panama Leaks that have led to the present ongoing crisis could be described as god given opportunity for those who had been fed up with galloping corruption in the high quarters and wanted a stop to it.
And in the process the first to get hit were no other than the former Prime Minister, his daughter and his two sons. Strangely whole edifice of Prime Minister’s prosecution was built on charges of acquiring huge wealth through corrupt means. However, he landed up being disqualified on charges of acquiring a work permit in a foreign country with a salary that he insists he did not claim. Not debating whether it was morally right to be Prime Minister of one country and also having work permit of another-the fact that rules in Pakistan only allow one to seek public office after two years of retirement- make him culpable of the high crime in any case since he hid his employment-even if it was on paper.
Without going into the case history or the long catalogue of machinations, wheeling dealings by his family accountant in transferring ill-gotten wealth for investment and purchase of properties abroad including setting up off shore companies-the former prime minister and his immediate family members have been found to be overly tainted. Since Panama Leaks led to resignations of some elected high office holders in other democracies, one perhaps on the concept of high moral ground, expected the former prime minister too to follow their footsteps and present himself for transparent accountability to clear his name.
It was, indeed, music for the years when he came on national television and claimed loud and clear that his hands are clean and that he was ready to show evidence of legitimate means for all the monies that Panama Leaks showed were his or his families. Not only that, he made this declaration in the National Assembly too. What made the whole matter deeply murky was series of contradictions made by all four. One lie led to another more severe than the previous. Forces including his political opponents such as PTI’s Imran Khan were offered a life time opportunity by him to take him to the cleaners. When there was a demand by Imran Khan and others that the Prime Minister be taken to task and held accountable for piles of wealth accumulated by him and his family members, my suggestion at that time to him was to take the matter to the Parliament and let it investigate. He had whole team of top lawyers, expert wheeler-dealers in his party and he had resources in abundance, he preferred to get involved in the battle of TORs rather than take the matter to the elected house where the issue could have been resolved in the best collective interests of the members.
He lost his case the very day when he shied away from the Parliament and allowed space to other institutions. Parliament had saved him in 2014 when IK had gone after him in a do or die battle fingered by the invisible umpires who were calling the shots for him. Had former president Asif Ali Zardari not mustered for him parliamentary support, his prime ministership would not survived beyond 2024. However, one cannot help when one does not listen to unsolicited saner advice and his preference is to follow the cronies who encourage him to dig deeper his own grave. Leave aside the element of divine retribution no one in the party tried to revisit him to the possibilities regarding the fate that could be in store for him on the basis of past record and history of Pakistan’s highest judiciary. He should have remembered that democracy in Pakistan received its first lethal hit when Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Muhammad Munir upheld dismissal of the Legislative Assembly in 1954 by a demented Governor General-Malik Ghulam Muhammad followed by yet another ignominiously historical judgment in which the same Chief Justice sanctified General Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1958. He set a precedence that has remained an albatross around our necks revisited time and again by the judiciary to keep military dictators in power. Most regretfully the highest judiciary has been ever since playing the role of a second fiddle to the Praetorian establishment. Its fall to the abyss of its own degradation came about when four Punjabi judges of the Supreme Court became directly a party to judicial murder most foul of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-not on the merit of the case but to abide by the orders of the blood thirsty dictator General Ziaul Haq. The legality of the fallacious judgment was blown to pieces by three judges of the same Supreme Court from the smaller provinces who found Bhutto Sahib not guilty.
Many other instances can be cited when judiciary has played criminal with democracy but one would suffice here to jog former Prime Minister’s memory to the one in which Justice Malik Qayum and his brother judge were ordered by him and pressurized by his hatchet man-his accountability chief and currently his front man– Senator Saifur Rehman– to convict with maximum jail sentence both Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari post haste in 1999 to pave way for MNS to becoming Ameerul Momineen. Recent blot on judiciary’s independence was afflicted when on pressure of former Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf allegedly involved in the murder of Benazir Bhutto and Akbar Bugti was allowed by the higher court-to leave the country. One may not agree with the insinuations of the PMLN leaders and the convicts that the five- member bench of the Supreme Court that unanimously disqualified the former Prime Minister under some sort of pressure-the fact of the matter is that if there was any, it was moral pressure of the people to see a crippling blow to be dealt at cancerous mega corruption. Senior most judge of the bench Justice Saeed Khosa opened his note with reference to well-known novel of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” and stated, “In the above mentioned sorry and unfortunate state of affairs a conclusion has appeared to me to be unavoidable and inescapable that in the matter of explaining the wealth and assets respondent No. 1 has not been honest to the nation, to the nation’s representatives in the National Assembly and even to this Court.” This is a fair indictment of a person found to be overly tainted in mega corruption. Regretfully the way matters are being handled, it seems that there is something more than meets the eye in the prevailing situation of uncertainty. Institutions and individuals must understand when someone is pushed to the wall, he can’t go beyond and he knows that if he does not fight he will be killed; as such he develops the mentality of a suicide bomber. That’s what we are witnessing in Pakistan today. The former Prime Minister is opening one front after another for his survival. The diatribe by his son-in-law in the National Assembly was a salvo aimed at killing too many birds in one go. Whether Capt ® Safdar achieved his purpose or not, it had a silver lining. Never before had the army as an institution come out so forcefully that it was a national institution that does not have any preference to caste, creed, colour or gender. It was a direct slap on the retired captain’s face since he had deliberately with a sinister motive demanded expulsion of all Ahmadies from the armed forces. One can understand the method behind this madness. He believes that his father-in-law is being pursued by professional hunters- hunters who hanged ZAB and who killed BIBI and Bugti. In this case it is both power and his wealth. Power acquired through vote and wealth by bits brash abuse. I am sure they all know in their heart of hearts that they did that but since MNS is the major player in the ‘humam’ (public bath) of nudies and he too is aware that among nudies are those who possess exclusive right to pull the trigger.
This is a Catch 22 situation. Clash of institutions will inevitably be very costly for the nation. Army Chief General Bajwa has very candidly expressed his concern over the state of national economy. More lethal is the other scenario following Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s offer to Washington to conduct joint operation against the safe havens of terrorists in Pakistan. He has gone a step further than GPM who had allowed Americans to have bases in our territory and permission to use drones. I have no option other than to agree with Yasmeen Ali’s conclusion that the collision with the Judiciary and the Army is nothing but seen as a death wish to attain political martyrdom. Any wrong step can lead to disastrous consequences for democracy as well the federation. Instead of his bid to subjugate the Praetorian establishment, he should be contented that with a sitting majority in Parliament, he continues to rule until at least next election in 2018-irrespective of his disqualification. Realize he must that the “Judiciary cannot dissolve the government per se.”
(Author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK, Advisor to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a veteran journalist.)