By Irfan Husain
August 05, 2017
WANTED: angels for positions of members of parliament; excellent perks; opportunities for advancement to ministerial posts; five-year tenure. Applicants must be ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’, or honest and upright.
It’s the last requirement that’ll be the deal-breaker for most of us. Hands up all those who have never sinned in their lives. What, no hands? Hang on, I can see several judges, generals, bureaucrats and businessmen raising their hands at the back. Thank God we have some honest and upright people living in our midst, or I would have been very disappointed with the Land of the Pure.
I’m looking for angels because the recent Supreme Court verdict disqualifying Nawaz Sharif has set the bar for becoming a parliamentarian impossibly high for mere humans. Granted that my circle of friends and acquaintances are sinners without exception, but nobody I know could possibly qualify under the new requirement set by our higher judiciary, with the possible exception of Imran Khan. I have briefly met him a couple of times, but going by his overheated anti-corruption campaign, I’m sure he is ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’.
Now that the Supreme Court has established the requirements for public representatives, many MNAs will accuse rivals of not conforming to the lofty standards of Article 62 that has knocked out Nawaz Sharif. Perhaps we will see the creation of a special bench to do nothing but hear such cases.
Don’t get me wrong: I have long been convinced of the Sharif clan’s confusion over the concept of conflict of interest. Their family fortune has multiplied as a result of Nawaz Sharif’s long stint in government. But he is hardly alone in giving his own family priority over everybody else.
As a society, we are prone to going out of our way to help our children and relatives, even if rules have to be bent and broken. I know business magnates who elevate their kids to senior positions within the company for which they are entirely ill-suited.
When (mercifully) retired chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry used his clout to have his son inducted into the police service, a few eyebrows were raised. Even more shot up when the enterprising young man appeared to make millions overnight. But thanks again to his father’s position, he was immune to prosecution or accountability of any kind. I could give many more examples, and so could every reader.
So clearly, getting rid of a venal prime minister should count as a good thing. My problem is not with his departure, but with its manner. We have all read expert opinions pointing out the flaws in the verdict. And while I claim no legal expertise, even I was struck by the fact that Nawaz Sharif was disqualified not on the basis of the many allegations levelled by the JIT, but because of a minor technicality.
In fact, the honourable judges had to seek recourse to the dictionary, ignoring the definition of ‘assets’ laid down in our income tax code. So if the assets of MNAs are henceforth to include receivables, how many have filed nomination papers on the basis of cash — the commonly used basis for determining assets by individuals? Plenty of room here for the Article 62 axe to come into play.
And before PTI trolls take to Twitter and email to accuse me of being a Nawaz Sharif supporter, let me quickly say that in all my years as a hack, I have written far more columns critical of Sharif than any other politician. My concern is more for democratic institutions than individuals.
A few months ago, I had suggested here that by taking on the Panamagate case, the Supreme Court would be opening a can of worms. Now, it has taken on the responsibility of monitoring progress made by a subordinate court trying Sharif and his family members and cabinet colleagues. Can the accused expect justice under these circumstances when the accountability court is aware of the opinion already expressed by their lordships?
Again, as far as I am concerned, they can lock up Nawaz Sharif and throw away the key. And most of his many detractors will ask why bother with legal niceties at all? But legal precedents matter, especially when they are established by the Supreme Court. Nearly 40 years after the event, we still remember the controversial 5-4 verdict that sent Bhutto to the gallows. Will the current contentious judgement be similarly recalled four decades from now?
Between bureaucrats, generals and judges, our elected prime ministers haven’t fared well, with not a single one since Independence completing his or her term. By adding Nawaz Sharif to this list on such dubious grounds, the Supreme Court has fuelled the perception that unelected individuals continue to make a mockery of popular mandates.
Surely the higher judiciary has a duty to us and to itself to review this decision.