By Khaled Ahmed
April 19, 2018
On April 13, the Supreme Court of Pakistan decided that ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, earlier controversially disqualified from office, would not be able to contest elections for the rest of his life. The lifetime ban came from Article 62 (1)(f), a remnant of the judicial irrationality of General Zia’s Islamising dictatorship, which compares elected politicians to the pristine character of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Sharif’s hubris was that he didn’t remove the said article from the constitution when the numbers were available to him in Parliament for an amendment. Now he is gone from national politics because he is not “Sadiq” (truthful) and “Amin” (trustful) like Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
First, he was removed from prime ministership in the Panama Case for money-laundering through offshore companies. The court, which was considered hostile by his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), started a case-building process through a Joint Investigative Team (JIT) that included officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI), and then got a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court to try him in cases that could land him in jail in addition to disqualifying him as prime minister. He was removed on the basis of a controversial “Aqama” (residential permit in the Gulf states) payment which he neglected to mention in his tax returns. The media was against him and the professional legal opinion was divided, including the country’s top lawyers, SM Zafar and Wasim Sajjad, who thought the court, had crossed all valid limits.
There was disagreement over whether Article 62 (1)(f), which mentioned no limit to the ban on office, could be interpreted to mean “disqualified for forever” while Article 63 (1)(g) stipulates that “a person convicted of a crime of moral turpitude and sentenced to jail for not less than two years can contest elections if five years have lapsed since his release”. A trigger-happy Supreme Court, armed with its “suo motu” power under a garrulous chief justice, has decided to get rid of Nawaz Sharif forever.
The political parties that could be affected by the verdict didn’t care as long as their rival was pulled down from his seat of power. One big factor was the generally accepted “fact” that the “military establishment” didn’t want him around because of his pro-India policy, as spelt out in his 2013 election manifesto. Nawaz Sharif had allowed this kind of fate to be meted out to his rival, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), when it fell out with the army. Pakistan’s political stability has entered its nadir.
The element of the military establishment in the case was highlighted after the JIT findings were presented at the NAB court. The JIT leader, Wajid Zia, revealed that “40 experts” had helped in building up the case. He went on to reveal that in London’s Avenfield Apartments case of money-laundering against the daughter and son-in-law of Sharif, the JIT was helped by the army’s ISI in procuring key material against the accused.
It was also revealed in the NAB court during questioning that the “Aqama” revelation that got Prime Minister Sharif dismissed was built on the basis of evidence collected by two members of the JIT: Brigadier Kamran Khurshid of the Military Intelligence (MI) and Irfan Naeem Mangi of the NAB “in a single day”. Sharif belatedly complained about the inclusion of “the personnel belonging to the ISI and MI in the team investigating my case”. He thought his case “did not involve issues of terrorism or national security” which could justify their participation. It was also revealed that British national Robert Radley, on whose statement in London Sharif was to be convicted, was also contacted by “Brigadier Noman Saeed of the ISI”.
It is already too late to investigate the details of the case and digest them. Almost all the TV channels — after sniffing the air for signals — have turned against the Sharifs. Journalists who tended to be neutral are now clearly partisan, using sarcasm to insult the PML-N where desertions are already in evidence. The Opposition, comprising Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan People’s Party, is on the front foot with insulting criticism, rejecting policies adopted by the besieged current Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The Supreme Court has become morbidly “activist”, lavishly using the suo motu in the heretofore prohibited turf of the executive, its chief justice luxuriating in an exaggerated pantomime of anti-Nawaz “justice” while the mountain of case backlog keeps growing in his courts.
The prospect for Pakistan is not good at all. Pakistan’s self-perception was coloured by the popular enthusiasm to get rid of Nawaz Sharif, which made the man in the street rebuff the international verdict on how well the Sharif government was doing economically despite street protests at times inspired by the establishment. More of this is going to make Pakistan even less governable than it is now given the outlawry of its ideologically exploitative religious organisations. The coming mid-year general election is going to inaugurate a period of weak governments that will notch up further the power of the establishment while the character of the politician takes another steep nosedive.