Nawaz Sharif and his daughter – to the exclusion of most of the senior members of PML(N) – have been harping on their ‘Tehreek-e-Adl’, a movement for restoration of justice. Ironically, this name (Tehreek-e-Adl) is only a shade different from the name of their fiercest political rival, Tehreek-e-Insaaf. But such nuances are of no consequence in present day Pakistani politics.
Joining the father-daughter duo, in this Tehreek-e-Adl, is a small but fiery band of Sharif family loyalists (many of whom, until recently, where just as loyal to a different King). This illustrious list – which includes the likes of Talal Chaudhry, Daniyal Aziz, and Asif Kirmani – is itself an argument for the kind of maliciousness that this tehreek embodies. Conspicuously, old-school and seasoned PML(N) leadership – including Shehbaz Sharif, Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, Chaudhary Nisar, Khurram Dastgir, and even Khawaja Asif – have neither joined this tehreek, nor propagated its principle position of attacking the honorable Supreme Court and its judges.
So, why have seasoned politicians stayed away from this tehreek (even criticized it), while opportunists have flocked to it like with zeal and fervor? What does this tehreek stand for? What does it aim to achieve? How will it achieve it? Is it really in the best interest of democracy and constitutionalism in our land? Or, instead, is it simply a move to restore the King to his throne?
Let’s start by analyzing some of the (express) objectives of this tehreek.
Overturning Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, and restoring him to the constitutional post of the Prime Minister. For all intents and purposes, this is the only objective that really matters to the King and his daughter. After all, this tehreek came into being after the 28th July judgment, and would never have been born if the honorable Supreme Court had spared Nawaz Sharif. Put another way: even though Nawaz Sharif has been in power for almost 25 of the last 35 years of Pakistani politics, never once has it occurred to him (or his loyalists) that ‘adl’ needs restoring. Reforms of the judicial system have never before formed a part of his party’s legislative agenda. Systemic delays in dispensation of justice have never figured into the policy narrative of Sharif family. And so, this newfound fanaticism for judicial reform does not stem from any institutional concern. Instead, at the core of it, this tehreek is merely an effort, on part of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, to find some way back to the office of the Prime Minister.
But how will the disqualification be overturned? This brings us to the next objective of the tehreek.
Removal of all judges who do not bow before the King. As best articulated in the Faisalabad speech of Talal Chaudhary, “Nawaz Sharif, throw these idols/judges out” because they will not provide “justice” (read: they will not bow and kiss your feet). This is a tough objective to achieve. Because, at the very least, it requires some form of a constitutional amendment. And amendment that not only removes the likes of CJ Saqib Nisar and Justice Asif Khosa from the bench, but also has the constitutional integrity to withstand a challenge before the honorable Supreme Court. Importantly, in this regard, the honorable Supreme Court has already held (in the judgment regarding challenge to the 21st Constitutional Amendment) that the honorable Supreme Court has the power to strike down constitutional amendments that infringe upon the basic structure of our Constitution, which includes ‘independence of judiciary’.
In case – through some impossible feat – Nawaz Sharif is able to overturn his disqualification, and remove (independent) judges, his tehreek will need some way of ensuring that no such eventuality arises (ever!) again. This brings us to the next set of objectives of this sordid tehreek.
Diluting the ambit of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution (clearing the path for people with tainted financial backgrounds to enter the Parliament, unchallenged); prohibiting the courts from conducting accountability of elected officials; and placing the appointment and removal of judges, under the ambit and authority of the Parliament. In this regard, as reported, the PML(N) machinery has already drafted bill that will amend the procedure for judicial appointments, placing it under the control of the Parliament, and ensure that members of the judiciary have to pander to political masters for their elevation and appointments. In many ways, this proposal is the legislative equivalent of the 1997 ransacking of the honorable Court, under the auspices of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. If successful, it promises to ensure that independence of judiciary is forever buried in our land, and that the King (and his daughter) enjoy virtually monarchial powers to rule over their subjects (not citizens). Ironically, the likes of Asma Jehangir (whose constitutional stance depends largely on who will fund her group’s electoral campaigns in the bar) have come out in favor of such proposals. Other beacons of justice – including several prominent lawyers – have simply shied away from taking a position on this issue, so as to not invite the irk of their pay-masters. How do these people justify their conscience, is a question better left unanswered.
Lastly, beyond these (ludicrous) proposals, Nawaz Sharif’s tehreek-e-adl also proposes measures to punish those who question the authority of the King, or attempt to hold him accountable for his actions. And this brings us to the last set of objectives.
Introducing punishment for ‘contempt of the vote’, and devising some mechanism for overturning judicial verdicts through the ‘court of the people’. This proposal, in no unambiguous manner, is aimed entirely at ensuring that any judge who dares to question the King is punished for his or her audacity. That the culpability of an elected official is determined through a show of hands during the jalsa (kiya tumhe faisla qabool hai?), as opposed to the judicial process. That criminal convictions can be overturned through ‘public referendums’. And that financial crimes can be hidden, with impunity, behind the garb of electoral influence.
This rhetoric of tehreek-e-adl, as conceived and articulated by Maryam Safdar and her gang, is perhaps the most pervasive attack on judiciary in our land. In a broader sense, it is the most perverse assault on the spirit and ethos of constitutionalism, in recent history. It is an attempt to reverse the wheel of democratic progress, by returning to a period before the King could be held accountable, in accordance with law.
Let us call the truth for what it is: this tehreek-e-adl is not about restoration of justice. It is simply about “mujhe kiyo’n nikala”! And if the stars were (somehow) realigned in a manner that brought Nawaz Sharif back to the office of the Prime Minister, suddenly there will be no need for this tehreek. Just the way there was none during the earlier 25 years of Nawaz Sharif’s governance.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.