By Khaled Ahmed
May 13, 2017
When religion is supreme, justice can go wrong. Because a religious state doesn’t accept the divorce between what is public and what is private, it ends up confusing ethics with piety. Judges are free to parade their own piety while judging crime. That’s what is happening in the case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf went to the Supreme Court of Pakistan asking it to unseat Sharif for money-laundering and was rewarded in April with a 3-2 verdict in favour of Sharif by a five-judge bench, two of them dismissing him under the Islamic Article 62 of the constitution.
The judiciary is sensing many hidden messages, ignoring which can be harmful for the judges. It clearly likes Khan more than it does the incumbent prime minister. The chief justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, recently told him: “Your words can move the nation to look at things positively. You are not an ordinary citizen, people look up to you.” Khan began working towards toppling the government right after its election in 2013. In 2017, he and his party are still at it, with the media highlighting the typically third world follies of the sitting government. The idea is to get rid of Sharif before Pakistan goes for the next election in 2018, which Sharif is expected to win.
The two judges who ruled against Sharif thought the case had proven that he was lacking in two attributes — “Sadiq” and “Ameen” — which were the attributes of the Holy Prophet PBUH. Pakistan’s penal code contains sections punishing people who are dishonest but the constitution has Article 62 emphasising that these are attributes that a member of parliament must possess. Since PM Sharif was not “Sadiq” — like the Holy Prophet PBUH — therefore he must quit.
Article 62 lays down the criterion of personal character of members of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) as: One, he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions; two, he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practises obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; three, he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and Ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law, and four, he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.
If you read the Article carefully you will agree with what Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, favouring the dismissal of Sharif, had once declared: “A strict application of Article 62 would disqualify most members of Parliament”. It is unfortunate that Article 62, surely inspired by a holy example, frequently arouses laughter when politicians are filing their papers for elections but fail to satisfy the election commission’s returning officer that their “knowledge of Islamic teachings” is adequate. Often, the officer who questions the candidate and thus seeks to insult him in front of an audience in a crowded room is equally ignorant of the Islamic teachings, which must be memorised in their entirety in Arabic.
There is a well-publicised incident that took place at the office of the returning officer in 2003 involving the most corrupt and debauched politician of Pakistan who shall remain unnamed. Mr X was grilled by the returning officer under Article 62. He was asked to recite the Third Kalima in Arabic, which he did. He was asked to explain the number of compulsory verses in the Namaz prayer of early morning, which he did. How many times do Muslims say Namaz in a day? He knew that too. He was likewise able to recite the long prayer known as Dua-e-Qunoot in Arabic. He was then asked about the events of the Battle of Badr fought by the Prophet PBUH, and he knew them. He also knew the significance of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. His papers were accepted! A cleric can qualify easily, but so can a criminal if he memorises the catechism.
Article 62 is not uniformly enforced by all returning officers. To that extent, it is a bad law. But its real defect pertains to its subjectivity and its superficial application. Controversially, the Article dismisses anyone who opposes the ideology of Pakistan. Already, in the penal code, the punishment for going against the ideology of Pakistan is 10 years, though never applied. There are other Islamic punishments (Hudood) inserted into the penal code that lump sin (done privately) together with crime committed publicly. The result has been that — despite instructions to the contrary — the police rank and file nabs “sinners” (drunks, dating couples, etc) rather than armed criminals. Were the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, alive today he would have to leave Pakistan after failing the catechism of Article 62.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’