PML(N)’s power show in Jaranwala, Faisalabad, on Saturday was aimed at articulating, in an unambiguous manner, the political narrative of Nawaz Sharif and his heir-apparent, Mrs. Maryam Safdar. And that narrative had three different prongs: 1) criticism of the judiciary; 2) criticism of Panama judgment, and the Constitution; 3) criticism of opposition political parties.
While the third prong (criticism of opposition political parties) is fair game, especially in an election year, the first two ideas (a scathing critique of the Supreme Court, its honorable judges, and their judgments) need to be discussed in greater detail.
However, before delving into some of the questions articulated by Maryam Safdar during her speech, a comment is necessary about Talal Chaudhary’s introductory remarks, at the very start of the jalsa. Talal Chaudhary – who needs to be reminded that he is State Minister for Interior – made a brief but fiery comment about the honorable Supreme Court and its judges, before handing over the dais to his political masters. Specifically, he said that the judges of the honorable Supreme Court are like the idols that were placed in the Holy Kaa’ba; and that the people (of Jaranwala) should help Nawaz Sharif throw these “PCO-idols” out from our cathedrals of justice, much like they were thrown out of the Kaa’ba (fourteen hundred years ago).
Now, the issue of contempt aside (which is significant in itself), would Tala Chaudhry care to clarify a few things: was this the comment of a political worker, or the State Minister for Interior, who had arrived at the jalsa in (publicly funded) protocol? Has he, while eagerly accepting the ministerial portfolio, not sworn the oath provided in our Constitution (under Article 92(2) and the Third Schedule)? Did that oath not require him to “solemnly swear” that he will act “in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law”, and “not allow [his] personal interest to influence [his] official conduct”? Did he not swear to “in all circumstances” act “according to law, without fear or favor, affection of ill-will”? And if so, does that not include the constitutional requirement to uphold the respect and integrity of our courts, the judges, and judicial verdicts? Also, what part of this oath permits him to prioritize his personal loyalty (in the Sharif darbaar) over his constitutional obligation as a State Minister? Put another way, does a constitutional oath mean anything to this ‘loyalist’ of Sharif family?
Regardless, this abominable speech was rewarded by Maryam Safdar, as she expressed pride on “Talal Chaudhry jaise wafadaar sher” being part of PML(N). Well, the ‘wafadar’ part cannot be argued with. But the use of ‘sher’ probably needs to be replaced with some other animal.
Maryam Safdar’s speech was a lot more substantive, and aimed at articulating the precise narrative of PML(N)’s political strategy. The fact that her speech was contemptuous in large parts, is nothing new. If the honorable Courts choose to ignore such contempt, there is nothing that the rest of us can do. (Except, of course, to ask the honorable Court to clarify what precisely constitutes contempt, if this speech does not?)
But, away from contemptuous remarks, the crux of her speech was a series of questions that she asked from the gathered crowd (and from the multitudes listening to her on televisions screens). These well-crafted questions invited the listeners to answer what kind of Pakistan they want to live in: Do we want to live in a Pakistan where elected people are put through (three) generations of accountability? Do you want a Pakistan in which the elected Prime Minister is made to appear before different courts of law? Do you want a Pakistan in which the courts and the Constitution can oust an elected Prime Minister? Do you want a Pakistan in which cases can be tried against elected representatives?
Well, the answer, for better or worse, is simple: Yes! Absolutely. The people of Pakistan, under the shade of our Constitution, want to hold elected representatives accountable. We want a Pakistan in which no person – no matter how many off-shore companies, foreign assets, or even votes s/he has – is made to answer before the same law that applies to every other citizen of this country. Yes, we want to live in a constitutional democracy, where the vote cannot wipe away crime. Where political referendums cannot extinguish financial corruption. Where murderers cannot be exonerated by counting how many people support their barbarity. Where the blood of (14) martyrs is avenged – even if the culprit is the King. Where the rulers appear before courts of law. Where actions have consequences. Where the Constitution can oust political leaders, if they violate their solemn oath.
Yes, we want a country in which the King can be asked how he amassed his wealth. Where political accountability is not an anathema against democracy. Where the King and his daughter do not get showered with rose-petals, from a private jet, while children die of famine in Thar, and the majority of citizens live below the poverty line. A country where political leadership focuses on providing basic facilities to its citizenry – clean water, affordable healthcare, etc. – instead of criticizing the institutions that step in to fill the vacuum.
Something really sordid is happening in the politics of our country. A powerful segment, within our political leadership, has launched a campaign to defend their criminality, under the garb of democracy. They have successfully convinced a large segment of the people that probing the King’s wealth is an attack against democracy. That seeking justice for the martyrs of Model Town, is a campaign against the democratic will. That asking questions about Dawn Leaks, is a conspiracy against the vote. That probing China-cutting in interior Sindh, Baldia Factory in Karachi, NAB cases in Punjab is somehow an undemocratic scheme, hatched by those who wish to subjugate the public will. And in this narrative, the Constitution is the foremost enemy of democracy.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We cannot allow the accused to dictate our public narrative in a manner that confuses corruption with democracy. We must reclaim the fact that accountability of the rich and powerful is not undemocratic; in fact, to the contrary, public accountability of the King is perhaps the most endearing virtue of a constitutional democracy.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.