Politics, in Pakistan, is the art of making the ridiculous seem sublime. As George Orwell (whose actual name was Eric Arthur Blair) once famously said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” While this claim was probably an exaggeration at the time he made it (in early 20th century British Empire), Orwell has been vindicated by modern day Pakistani politicians, especially in the post-Panama scenario.
Let us start from the very top: Mian Nawaz Sharif – still the most powerfull political player in Pakistan, and leader of the largest political party – has been disqualified by the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan (on account of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution), and is undergoing a NAB Court on charges of money laundering and possessing assets beyond declared means. And his most candid defence to these allegations (per his own statement) is simple: “Tumhe kiya?”. Still, for some inexplicable reason, the political elite within his party, including the incumbent Prime Minister, continue to refer to him as the Prime Minister (of hearts!). In the circumstances, one needs to ask Prime Minister Abbasi and his cabinet members whether this ‘dominion of the hearts’ ends with the office of the Prime Minister, or does it stretch into other institutions of the State? In simpler terms, is Zia-ul-Haq still the Army Chief of their hearts? Is Zia-ud-Din Butt still the DG ISI of hearts? Is Malik Qayyum still their Justice of hearts? And is Qamar Zaman Chaudhary still the DG NAB of hearts?
And what about the saga surrounding Mr. Ishaq Dar – who continue to service as Pakistan’s Finance Minister, despite being a heartbeat (no pun intended) away from being convicted of money laundering! Truth be told, Ishaq Dar’s situation is an embarrassing aberration in politics, even by PML(N) standards. A man who once confessed (before an authorised magistrate) that he assisted his political masters in money laundering, continues to hold the key to our National Treasury. But why harp on the past… A man who, at present, being tried for charges of money laundering and unexplained (92 fold) increase in personal wealth, continues to be the principal finance official of our country. If that does still does not jolt the soul, consider this… a man whose assets and bank accounts have been frozen, who cannot sign a cheque on his personal account, continues to be a signatory on our National Exchequer. His appointees continue to control institutions such as the State Bank, SECP, NBP and the Stock Exchange. Worse still, a man who (allegedly) is bed-ridden in a hospital somewhere in England, and refuses to appear before our Courts of law… is the custodian of our collective economic destiny.
Next: We have a Foreign Minister who (admittedly) holds an Iqama. Our Railways Minister is being investigated for land-scam worth billions of Rupees. The Chief Minister of our largest Province has been deemed culpable in the massacre of 14 innocent lives in Model Town. His Law Minister has a history of more than two-dozen FIRs registered against him. In Sindh, the ruling political party is headed by an individual colloquially regarded as Mr. 10%. His sister – the de facto Chief Minister of the Province – has been named as an extortionist by gangsters like Uzair Baloch. The de jure Chief Minister of Sindh, who does not have a single hospital worth mentioning in his entire constituency (as evident in the aftermath of Sehwan bombing), is having to make statements explaining that he has not become an ‘approver’ against his own government. In Karachi, the political party in-charge has a legacy of body-bags and torture cells. Till a few months ago, its central office was located in a district deemed to be a ‘no-go area’ for State institutions and individuals. And, even today, its key members are complicit in ensuring that the Baldia Town Factory report never sees the light of day.
There is no way to rationalise these facts. There is no political or legal justification for this deprecation of our democratic creed. And the only excuse that these individuals have for being in power, is a manufactured public mandate. The argument being presented, by all implicated elements of political power, is that they have been ‘voted in’. And that to question them, or to hold them accountable before our respective Courts of law, is somehow tantamount to robbing the public mandate.
And surprisingly, this narrative has (substantial) purchasers in the marketplace of ideas. For some inexplicable reason, a significant fraction of our populi believes that the process of accountability is, in fact, an undemocratic conspiracy.
Why is this narrative popular? Two reasons: 1) credit must be given to Maryam Nawaz’s political machinery, and the empowering manner in which she has presented this caustic message to the public at large; and 2) in the post Panama-verdict scenario, the opposition parties mistook the judicial verdict as a political victory. They snoozed in capturing the moment, and as a result, surrendered political momentum to PML(N).
So let us try and settle this debate. We do not live in a puritanical democracy, where a simply show of hands can wipe out cardinal sins. We live in a ‘constitutional democracy’; a system of government where ‘vote’ is no immunity against crime. Where street power cannot mitigate the provisions of NAB Ordinance, or the Pakistan Penal Code. And no ‘dominion of the heart’ can dilute the reach and ambit of judicial verdicts.
Let us pray this season of political accountability is carried to its logical conclusion, across the board. Let us pray that it does not conclude with just one family, or one political party, and instead holds the entire political elite responsible for the crimes (of commission an omission) against the hapless people of Pakistan. Let us pray that this drive towards accountability does not end in some NRO, or gold-plated exile. And let us pray for the establishment of a meaningful and unmarred democracy in our land.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.