By Najam Sethi
11 Jul 2014
Politics is taking another ugly turn in Pakistan. Unfortunately, politicians are at the centre of the gathering storm, notwithstanding the provocative role of the military’s intelligence agencies to exploit some of them to cut others down to size and tilt the civil-military balance in the military’s favour.
The root cause of the current buffeting of state and society is Imran Khan. Barely one year after he gamely accepted the verdict of the general elections of 2013, he has changed his mind and is accusing the judiciary of having helped Nawaz Sharif steal the elections from him. His ire is directed in particular against ex-chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the very same gentleman who was praised to high heaven by Imran Khan when he was in the saddle and targeting the PPP government of Asif Zardari. CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry has been the object of Imran Khan’s wrath since he turned down Imran Khan’s petition to “open up” four constituencies in the Punjab for detailed scrutiny on the perfectly legal ground that the route for redressing such grievances lay via the election tribunals and high court to the Supreme Court rather than directly to the SC.
Imran Khan is impatient to get into Islamabad and is threatening to overthrow an elected government next August by a “revolutionary tsunami”. Not so long ago, he had defined Pakistan’s major problem as its inability to enable and allow the democratic system to continue seamlessly without interruptions in governments before their term ends, a reference to the periodic military coups and civilian ousters that have laid Pakistan low. Today, he is preaching and practicing the exact opposite, aided and abetted by the perennial clutch of backdoor hopefuls like Tahirul Qadri and the remnants of the PMLQ rump.
Imran Khan has also turned on the Geo/Jang Group (GJG) that played a major role in catapulting him to the top not only by giving him the largest chunk of airtime but also by uncritically approving his candidature before the elections. Apparently GJG’s continued support for Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, coupled with its pro-civilian stance in the civil-military equation, has roused powerful quarters to nudge Imran Khan to take up cudgels against it.
However, Imran Khan’s personalized attacks on Nawaz Sharif and Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry have muddied the waters and provoked counter attacks that threaten to bring the question of “Islamic morality” center stage in politics. Imran has always tried to occupy the high moral ground in politics despite the many skeletons in his cupboard. Now the stage is set for reprisals.
Dr Arsalan Chaudhry, son of ex-CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, intends to petition the Election Commission of Pakistan and challenge Imran Khan’s credentials to become a member of parliament on the touchstone of Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution that define “a good Muslim”. The charge against Imran Khan is that he is the father of a child out of wedlock, which is against the provisions of Islam and which disqualifies him from becoming a member of parliament. This is the not the first time that Imran Khan has been thus accused but he has never had to defend his credentials for parliament on account of this charge. It is also not the first time that recourse to Articles 62 and 63 has been taken by election commission officials to disqualify candidates from contesting elections. So there will be a case to defend this time round.
This is most unfortunate. The inclusion of these articles in the constitution is a reminder of the huge damage done to it by General Zia ul Haq. Who is to determine who is a good and pious Muslim and who is not? Until now, election commission officials have been asking candidates to recite various Quranic verses as if ritual and rote knowledge of the laws of Allah qualifies someone to be a good Muslim. Regrettably, however, various parliaments have come and gone since these articles were incorporated into the constitution and none has had the courage to excise them. Now we are faced with an extraordinary dilemma: if the courts disregard the concrete evidence against Imran Khan, then they will be discredited; if Imran Khan is disqualified, it will amount to disenfranchising tens of millions of Pakistanis who fervently believe in and follow Imran Khan. Political instability will follow, especially since Imran Khan has vowed to drag Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the altar of Articles 62 and 63 in retaliation. Indeed, if a halt is not put to Dr Arsalan Chaudhry’s endeavors, it is quite likely that the floodgates of litigation will be opened and scores of fresh petitions will choke the courts.
What goes round comes round. Since definitions of morality in the Islamic Republic are quite loose, it is best not to derail democracy by clutching at Articles 62 and 63 or by thundering into Islamabad at the head of a tsunami. Sane council should prevail in all contesting camps.