By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
In Pakistan, preparations for the general election have practically been started. Caretaker Prime Minister Justice (r) Nasir-ul-Mulk has taken charge of his new task, election date (25th July) has already been announced, caretaker set-up in centre and provinces has been set-up. Political parties are in full gear and are trying to convince their voters their manifesto as the best strategy for them and for the country.
But the fact is that situation related to elections and future set-up of the country is still considered vague because in a country where the million dollar question remains to be answered pertains to the constitutional requirement of a candidate to be ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Amin’ to qualify for the highest executive job of the Prime Minister of the country. Following Panama Gate scandal we have seen an intensive ongoing debate on the subject, leading to the disqualification of an elected prime minister who had done more than four years in office.
Cases of corruption against him and his daughter are being under process in the NAB courts and apprehensions point towards sealing of political fate of the man who enjoyed absolute power for nearly 30 years. Notwithstanding the outcome of the cases, the silver lining from behind the dark clouds of uncertainty is a major achievement in Pakistan’s political development that a decade of democracy has been completed irrespective of its wayward progress. Indeed, a land mark event.
At long last after great deal of deliberations and speculations a consensus candidate has been found for the post of caretaker prime minister. In an atmosphere over laden with ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Amin’ syndrome, it was no doubt most challenging task faced by both the PMLN and PPPP leadership to fish out a candidate who could at best be nearest to both and be accepted as a consensus candidate for all the political parties. It is heartening to note that not many a finger have been raised against the selection of retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Mr Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk. Rather his appointment has been welcomed widely.
Irrespective of the fact that there is hardly any justification for a caretaker set up if there is a powerful Chief Election Commissioner and equally efficient and competent Election Commission manned by professional and above board staff especially well trained Returning Officers much on the pattern of Indian Election Commission. Any way since we have got used to it, the choice of the caretaker Prime Minister is not bad. He enjoys excellent reputation as a judge and also had the experience of serving as Interim Election Commissioner.
Elections in Pakistan have never been an easy affair. Notwithstanding pre-polling mishmash howsoever impartial or transparent elections have been held, results are challenged, rivals accused of rigging and outcome is always questioned. Moreover, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and ‘hum nawa’ keep orchestrating that elections would not be fair, they are already rigged against PMLN and that judiciary is being used against him to eliminate him politically. Besides most serious charge is the involvement of the dark state in engineering political parties to seek a hung parliament to get a prime minister that suits their power management interests.
One is pleased to see that even PTI has no objection to Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk’s selection although it has always clamoured that judges such as the caretaker prime minister have a track record of bailing out Nawaz Sharif from difficult situations that’s why no hassle from PMLN on his nomination. Rumblings heard among the PTI members pertain to Nawaz’s acquittal by Justice Mulk in the infamous hijacking case that made Pervez Musharraf stage a coup back in 1999. As CJP he also rejected all four petitions seeking Nawaz’s disqualification from the premiership on the basis of lying to the National Assembly over his request to the then COAS to act as a broker to defuse the PTI-led dharnas back in 2014 allegedly backed by two DGs of ISI. PPPP insiders cannot forget his role in sending a sitting Prime Minister – Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani – home when the later refused to write a letter to the Swiss government in a case against his President. His contemptuous dismissal of PTI’s petitions alleging rigging in 2013 elections – all are there to remind that somebody is somebody’s ladla. It needs to be appreciated that parties that were affected by his earlier court decisions have given him the benefit of doubt by agreeing to his nomination as caretaker Prime Minister. As such in his new position he shall have to act as Sadiq and Amin as much as possible.
Holding of elections in Pakistan is onerous challenge and especially elections in 2018 fixed for July 25 when rivalries are sharp, tempers are high, suspicious too many, pitfalls on each and every step, institutions being suspected of engineering – it will require extra-ordinary commitment by the Caretaker Prime Minister, Provincial Caretakers, Chief Election Commissioner and the members of the staff to ensure that elections are held transparent.
Justice Mulk is a learned man who has seen many elections in the past and who must be aware of the hazards that entail conduct of free and fair elections. One is sure he would leave no stone unturned to create a rancour free environment and perhaps he will get full support from the major political parties if not all towards achieving that end. However, the most severe challenge that he will face would be from some notorious religious groups that have emerged lately to upset the western concept of democratic applecart.
Immediate task before him would be to call all the top leaders of the political parties and take them into confidence regarding the code of conduct during the campaigning period, at the time of casting of votes and counting of votes. Recent cases of violence among political workers due to below the belt provocations must not be allowed at any cost. As Prime Minister he shall have to have a tight control over the law and order machinery especially to keep groups such as Labbaik is on the leash.
Recent attack on the Interior Minister Rao Ahsan Iqbal by a member of Labbaik Party, attack on Ahmadi Place of worship in Sialkot led allegedly by a PTI activist, earlier role of Captain Safdar, Maryam’s husband in stirring the Khatam-e-Nabuwat hornets nest that led to Law Minister’s forced resignation – plus the reign of terror let lose on PPP, MQM, ANP and other liberal/secular politicians in 2013 must not be allowed to be repeated. It would be a great achievement of Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk if he could create a level playing field for elections – irrespective of the caste, creed or colour of political parties. We must learn to separate religion from politics as was the vision of the Quaid.
(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)