Politics, in Pakistan, is the art of making the ridiculous seem sublime. As George Orwell 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.” And our incumbent political elite – Particularly in Punjab and Sindh – is vindicating Orwell’s claim.
Let us start from the very top: Mian Nawaz Sharif – still the most powerful 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). Also, he has been formally indicted by the NAB Court on charges of money laundering and having assets beyond declared means. Still, for some inexplicable reason, the political elite within his party, including the incumbent Prime Minister, continues 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?
Next in line is the fiasco surrounding PML(N)’s Finance Minister (of hearts?) –Mr. Ishaq Dar! The saga of Ishaq Dar is an embarrassing aberration in politics, even by PML(N) standards. A man who once confessed (before an authorized magistrate) that he assisted his political masters in money laundering, continues to hold the key to our National Treasury. But harp on the past… A man who, at present, has been indicted for charges of money laundering and unexplained (92 fold) increase in personal wealth, continues to be the chief finance official of our country. If that still does not jolt the soul, consider this… a man whose assets and bank accounts have been frozen, who cannot sign a single cheque on his 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, who refuses to appear before our Courts of law, and whom no one knows how to contact or where to find… is the custodian of our collective economic destiny.
Standing next to him is our worthy Foreign Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif. Let ignore, for a moment, an important fact that he has no experience of expertise (either professional or educational) to hold this post; instead, let us consider the (admitted) fact that he holds an Iqama – a permit to work in the UAE. Now, the worthy Foreign Minister does not deny that he posses an Iqama. His only defence is that holding an Iqama is not illegal, per se, and that he disclosed it in his election filings. The matter is already sub-judice, and the honorable Court will decide the issue per law. Let us assume, for a moment, that Khawaja Asif’s claim is correct; that it is not illegal to possess an Iqama, and that it was duly disclosed. But stepping away from the cliff of law for a moment, is it not pertinent to ask why the Foreign Minister of our country (who is responsible for protecting the interest of Pakistan vis-à-vis other states) owns a work-permit and residence for another country? Should we not ask why our Foreign Policy is being formulated by a man who already has one foot out of the door! Will personal interest not cloud his judgment on foreign policy, if UAE (or some other country, through UAE) threatens to revoke the Iqama? And, in any case, should Foreign Ministry be entrusted to an individual whose exit strategy is to reside and work in some other country?
Adding to this, the Chief Minister of the largest Province has (allegedly) been deemed culpable in the (unreleased) Model Town Report. 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 rationalize these facts. There is no political or legal justification for this deprecation in 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 tantamount to robbing the public mandate.
So let us try and settle this debate. We do not live in a puritanical democracy, where a simple 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. In a constitutional democracy, no amount of votes cast (in any particular constituency) can serve as an antidote to Article 62 and 63. No official position or political congregation can provide immunity against crime committed. No street power can 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 and omission) against our hapless people. Let us pray that this drive towards accountability does not end in some NRO or gold-plated exile. And let us pray for the nurturing 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.