Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his children, all of whom are accused in cases relating to money laundering, corruption, mis-declaration of assets, and abuse of official authority, have (apparently) chosen not to face the accountability courts, and instead continue living in their London properties (which are the very subject-matter of the corruption cases). In another setting, in another time, in another country, this would be anathema for someone who claims to champion democratic and constitutional values. In Pakistan, however, this is business as usual.
Apparently, the excuse (without being disrespectful) for the entire family to stay out of Pakistan is; Mrs. Qulsoom Nawaz is sick, and undergoing treatment. That is fair enough – taking care of family should be a priority. However, this excuse was not grave enough for Mrs. Maryam Safdar to stay in Pakistan during the NA-120 elections, nor was it serious enough to Nawaz Sharif to stay in Pakistan long enough to get a tainted Election law passed through the Parliament, and then get elected (unopposed) as the President of PML-N. Apparently, when it comes to politics, health of Mrs. Qulsoom Nawaz is good enough to permit members of Sharif family to be in Pakistan, but when it comes to facing the courts of law, she is too sick for the family to abide by judicial orders.
Sharif family’s narrative, in terms of the on-going political and legal battles, is simple but disingenuous. They claim that 1) Panama Leaks were part of some international conspiracy (spanning multiple jurisdictions) just to de-seat Mr. Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan; 2) the “establishment” of Pakistan orchestrated this entire conspiracy; 3) the judiciary – much like its past creed of siding with the khakis – jumped onto the conspiracy bandwagon, and disqualified Mr. Nawaz Sharif without cause; 4) when no proof, in terms of ‘Panama’ could be unearthed, the judiciary disqualified Nawaz Sharif on ‘Iqama’; 5) in any case, the Supreme Court (i.e. ‘five people’) should have no power to override the mandate of millions, by disqualifying an elected Prime Minister; 6) in a democracy, the power of the vote should be respected, over and above all dictates of law and the Constitution; and 7) as a result, Constitution should be amended to reflect that corruption is not a basis for disqualification of a Parliament, so long as the ‘people’ have voted for him/her.
While this ‘democratic’ argument might appeal to a significant portion of PML-N’s traditional voter-base, but has tremendous legal and constitutional gaps. As a result, a few questions need to be answered by Sharif family’s think tank and strategic media cell.
One, if disqualification of an elected Prime Minister by the Supreme Court (in violation of people’s mandate) is unacceptable to PML-N, why did Nawaz Sharif & Co. not object to the disqualification of Yusuf Raza Gillani? Why did PML-N leaders hold up banners in support of the Supreme Court, when YGR was on the ropes? Why did they demand his resignation, as soon as he was indicted by the Court? Was he not an elected Prime Minister? Or is it instead a defence of Nawaz Sharif – and not a defence of democracy – that PML-N is advocating?
Two, conspiracy or not, where is the money trail? How were the London flats bought? Regardless of who was ‘behind’ Panama Leaks, why is there no justification for the billions of Rupees that Nawaz Sharif and family own? Who is the Qazi family? How did the 16-or so off-shore companies come to be owned by Sharif family children, who have never held a real job in their lives? Why are there such discrepancies in the public statement (including those on oath) rendered by Sharif family members? Regardless of the political rhetoric, and all the talk about conspiracies and civil-military imbalance, these are questions that Sharif family has no answer for.
Three, has PML-N really thought through this argument of ‘five people’ and their constitutional verdict being somehow a hindrance for democracy? Have their political and legal advisors considered the consequences of such rhetoric? That anyone who gathers a few thousand voters in the streets can claim that he is now above the law; above the Constitution and judgments of the courts? Is that the essence of our ‘constitutional’ democracy? Is the Constitution, and its application, now ‘enemy No. 1’ against the democratic enterprise? If so, should it be replaced with some other social contract where the power of vote can wash away all crime? If a murderer produces a thousand voters, should he be exonerated? Also, should we start convicting people, based on how many people vote for it?
Four, if Sharif family really believes in power of the people (alone), why hire a lobbying firm in the US (to bring them back into power)? Why court international friends to bring about a change in domestic politics? Why revert back to the model of the 1990s, when international guarantors would bail out domestic politicians? Why congregate in London to influence change in Islamabad?
Regrettably, our political machinery is caught in an insufferable loop of saving its own skin. The entire PML-N is mounting a defence (in the name of democracy) in order to save a single (disqualified) person. And similarly, most of PPP, at least in Sindh, is focusing on saving Asif Ali Zardari’s personal fiefdom, and those who have helped build it. In the midst of it all, unfortunately, those who are accused of corruption are also entrusted with making the system of accountability in our country. Those who have been (or are about to be) charged with money laundering will also be picking the individual who directs all investigation and collects evidence against them.
We must remember – and be constantly reminded – that we do not live in a simple democracy; instead, we Pakistan is a “constitutional democracy”. This means, above all, that the Constitution and law is supreme in our land. We live in a system where votes cannot wipe out guilt. Where elections cannot overturn judicial verdicts. Where Supreme Court cannot derives its authority through the Constitution, and not some form of a referendum. And only in this manner, by ensuring that constitutional protections are supreme, can we guarantee that Allah Ditta gets justice against the waderas, who not only have money and power, but also the means to buy local votes.
This is the system that our people have chosen for themselves, and enshrined in our Constitution. The sooner PML-N accepts this reality, the better it would be for the State and people of Pakistan.