Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has become the pivot on which the country’s entire politics is just revolving. At the same time, this single individual also seems to be a touchstone for the democracy in Pakistan. The ruling PML-N is portraying him as one who is indispensable for the existence and continuation of democracy in the country. On the other hand, the opposition political parties, particularly PTI, are painting him as the most significant potential threat to the democracy and democratic institutions. One just wonders how a single person can kill or cure the democracy in a country. Indeed a lot of individuals and institutions collectively shape the political future and destiny of nations.
At present, political parties are extensively exploiting all the three organs of the government- executive, legislature, and judiciary- to articulate and achieve their respective political goals in the country. Firstly, the opposition political parties, including PTI, approached the apex court to dislodge former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. They eventually succeeded in getting Nawaz disqualified through a judicial process. Now, these parties want the accountability courts to put another nail in Nawaz’s political coffin by promptly convicting him in multiple corruption cases. On the other hand, the ruling party is keenly endeavoring to resurrect Nawaz Sharif with the extensive and exclusive support of the executive and the legislature. So the main state functionaries, including the prime minister, are standing shoulder to shoulder with Nawaz Sharif, while the Sharif family is facing corruption charges in the accountability court.
A number of tailor-made amendments are being introduced in the public representation; laws to make senior Sharif politically active and relevant in Pakistan once again. A recent amendment now allows a disqualified person to head a political party. Soon after this amendment, Nawaz Sharif was ‘unanimously’ elected as the president of PML-N last week. Now it is being speculated that PML-N, in collaboration with PPP, would also soon scrap the constitutional provisions requiring a parliamentarian to be a ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’. Similarly, they would also amend Article 184(3) of the Constitution to abolish the jurisdiction of the apex court to scrutinize and disqualify the parliamentarians.
While actively propagating their political narratives in the country, politicos look hardly concerned about the things like morality, ethics, and principles. Nawaz Sharif is enjoying the security protocol reserved for the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, publicly says “Nawaz Sharif is still my prime minister.” Similarly, a large number of federal and provincial ministers are acting and behaving just like the personal servants of the Sharif family. On the other hand, the opposition political parties are desirous of making Nawaz Sharif politically dysfunctional and irrelevant by hook or by crook. Now they are also demanding snap elections after the instant dissolution of National and Provincial Assemblies. Recently, we saw how PTI joined hands with its rival political party MQM to maneuver for the Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly.
Instead of strengthening the democratic institutions, political parties have just become instrumental in undermining the democracy in the country. A healthy political culture, which is a prerequisite for a vibrant democracy, is virtually missing in the national discourse. There is an observable confrontation among powerful state institutions. The civil-military tension is escalating with every passing day, it seems. Last week, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal threatened to resign when his subordinate Rangers officials barred him from entering an accountability court in Islamabad. Similarly, a ruckus between the NAB officials and PML-N workers was also witnessed at Islamabad airport when these officials arrested Captain (r) Muhammad Safdar on his return from London on Sunday night. These sorts of incidents may give rise to a situation when the so-called ‘Third Umpire’ considers itself justified to intervene in the parliamentary affairs in ‘the greatest interest of the country.’
Currently, the state of Pakistan’s economy is anything but satisfactory. Accumulated public debt has just exceeded the alarming figure of Rs20 trillion. The fiscal deficit is now equivalent to one-third of the total annual budget. Energy sector’s circular debt has reached the highest point. These economic challenges certainly warrant some prompt and effective measures to stabilize the economy. But regrettably, at these critical moments, our worthy Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is just busy in defending corruption charges against him in the accountability court.
Pakistan is also facing many foreign policy challenges on account of rapidly-changing geostrategic realities in the region. However, Pakistan currently lacks any proactive diplomatic strategy to meet these challenges. Our foreign policy has apparently fallen prey to the civil-military rift in the country. The civilian and military leaders are apparently not on the same page when it comes to dealing with the defunct outfits in the country. At the moment, Prime Minister Abbasi doesn’t wield the authority of the federal government. In fact, the affairs of the federal government are actually run from the Punjab House, Islamabad, and Park Lane or Mayfair, London.
Nawaz Sharif is the first parliamentarian who has been disqualified by the apex court while exercising its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. So the apex court adopted an unusual legal procedure to oust Nawaz Sharif. This legal process is also under criticism for having numerous flaws and shortcomings. This is the reason Nawaz is now openly criticizing the superior judiciary for not offering him a fair trial. He is disputing the impartiality of the judges of the apex court by constantly repeating his signature question- “why have I been ousted.” In fact, the apex court bench in Panama case only focused the legal and constitutional aspects of the case while ignoring the crucial political dimension of it. It somehow failed to appreciate the political repercussions of the Panama verdict. Obviously, there will be political destabilization when the chief executive of the country, who is also the head of the largest parliamentary party, is instantly dislodged by the court. So now the disgruntled leader has just chosen to mobilize his loyalists in the federal and provincial government to undo or mitigate the adverse legal and political implications of the Panama verdict.
An accountability process essentially requires a strong political will. There must be a proactive accountability regime besides some vibrant institutions to carry out a meaningful accountability. The executive branch of the government is considered primarily responsible for carrying out the process of accountability while the judiciary only plays its institutional role as required by the legislature. In fact, the judiciary is not supposed to take charge of accountability process even if the executive doesn’t correctly perform its duties vis-à-vis accountability. Obviously, two wrongs don’t make a right. We know very well the incumbent PML-N regime is hardly interested in evolving the accountability institutions in the country. So we can endeavor to replace this political order with another one who would seriously launch a meaningful accountability drive in Pakistan in the future. However, this sort of political change should only be secured through an electoral process. This is the underlying spirit of democracy. We have just observed the Panama verdict has only given rise to political turmoil in the country.
Deposed PM Nawaz Sharif has suggested initiating the inter-institutional dialogue to end confrontation among key state institutions in the country. At the moment, there are hardly any prospects for this sort of dialogue. However, at this stage, it is desirable that all the political parties should sit together to end political uncertainty and turmoil in the country. They should set some rules of the game. They should endeavor to evolve a healthy political culture in the country by abstaining to unnecessarily scandalizing each other. They should also focus on the electoral reforms to ensure free and fair next polls.
Certainly, a court verdict can’t change the destiny of a nation. Nor can judicial decisions ensure a better political order. In fact, an extensive public participation is a sine qua non for a lasting political change in any polity. People are the ultimate makers or breakers of a political order. Democracy requires vigilance and continuity. Therefore, the current ills of democracy in the country should be tried to be cured by more democracy. Indeed there are no instant remedies for Pakistan’s chronic democratic maladies.