EDITORIAL: The Pakistani Inquisition
The political scene in the run up to the elections gives the impression of surprising and confusing twists and turns. The scrutiny process of candidates’ nomination forms has thrown up some strange (and some hilarious) anomalies. Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif (along with sundry family members and Senator Ishaq Dar) are confronted once again with the ghost of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case. This involved the alleged default on a loan of Rs 3.5 billion. NAB, one of the state institutions called upon by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to assist in the scrutiny of candidates’ nomination forms, has informed the ECP that the Sharif brothers are defaulters in the case and therefore ineligible to contest. Further they are accused of accumulating wealth beyond their known sources of income through misuse of authority while in power. It must be noted though, that the case in question was instituted in the Attock NAB Court on March 27, 2000 when Nawaz Sharif was incarcerated not far away in Attock jail. The suspicion at the time, irrespective of the merits of the case, was that it was a move by the Musharraf dictatorship to sully the image and reputation of the overthrown prime minister. This is not the only source of trouble for the Sharifs. The PPP has objected to Nawaz Sharif’s candidature in NA-120 for being a ‘defaulter’ in the Asghar Khan case, while the PTI has objected to Shahbaz Sharif’s candidature in NA-129 because he has references against him in NAB. The Sharifs have been asked by the respective Returning Officers (ROs) to submit their replies in writing today. Senator Pervaiz Rasheed, the PML-N spokesman, has already refuted all these charges by claiming that there was no discrepancy in the assets declared by the Sharifs.
This is not the only case of political rivals trying to pull each other down before the elections. Even Imran Khan has been the target of objections against his candidature by a rival. On the other hand, PML-N former MNA and known columnist Ayaz Amir has had his papers rejected by an RO on the grounds that he had written a column against the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. Ayaz was quite right (as were others) in questioning what that ideology was. No one knows for certain, but much mischief can and has been wrought in this undefined ideology’s name. Some observers have characterised the rejection of Ayaz Amir’s papers for expressing ideas as ‘Orwellian’ (Big Brother is not only alive and well, he is watching you with an eagle’s eye). Other casualties of the scrutiny process are Faisal Saleh Hayat (for water theft) and Abid Imam (son of Syeda Abida Hussain). Sadly, all this ‘mischief' on the eve of the elections is being wrought under the umbrella of Articles 62 and 63.
Under fire for what is going on (disqualifications left and right, with the prospects of long drawn out challenges before the election tribunals), the ECP has distanced itself from the scrutiny process by arguing the ROs are judicial officers and the ECP cannot, and has not, issued any directions to them on how to conduct the scrutiny process. However, critics of these shenanigans are blaming the Supreme Court (SC), and particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry for the mess. They say the SC’s order of April 1 (April Fool’s Day, incidentally) strictly held the ROs to apply the provisions of Articles 62 and 63. This is criticised as an illegal direction to judges from the SC. On the touchstone of Articles 62 and 63 and the rigorous verbal interrogation of candidates regarding knowledge of Islamic provisions, the scrutiny process is more and more resembling the methods of the Spanish Inquisition of yore. Ironically, although Musharraf’s condition of a graduation degree for standing in elections has been done away with (which was a serious blow against universal franchise and as it turns out, Musharraf’s sweet revenge on the country that rejected him finally), the fake degrees submitted by many parliamentarians to participate in the 2008 elections are catching up with them with a vengeance, and if proved fake, are taking them down as lacking the honesty and integrity Articles 62 and 63 prescribe for candidates.
Inevitably, the conspiracy theory mills have started to grind, seeing the hand of the establishment or, in the present context the judiciary, behind the attempt at a wholesale discrediting of the political class to pave the way for...? If large numbers of candidates, and especially prominent figures, are knocked out even before the electoral contest has begun, it will inevitably cast a long shadow over, and perhaps even bring into question, the credibility of the upcoming elections. That way lies enormous peril. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: Musharraf’s nemesis may be near
Former dictator and president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf is in the hot seat. While his arrival was met with a tepid response, no one should be surprised by the noose tightening around his neck. At first, his name was put on the Exit Control List (ECL) despite the Sindh High Court (SHC) granting Musharraf protective bail for 21 days — a court appearance during which a shoe was thrown at him by an angry protester. Most recently, his nomination papers for the Kasur NA-139 constituency have been rejected because of his involvement in four cases still pending in the courts: he is implicated in the Benazir Bhutto, Nawab Akbar Bugti, Laal Masjid and missing persons cases. Now the Supreme Court (SC) has accepted an application accusing him of committing treason under Article 6 of the constitution. This is not shaping up to be Musharraf’s fifteen minutes of fame.
The former dictator has enjoyed his freedom in exile for the last four years now, far from the crowds demanding justice in all four cases. Musharraf, in his delusions of grandeur, did not anticipate that his army mantle may not be enough to save him from being dragged over the coals in this feverish political climate where even veteran politicians and lawmakers are being scrutinised and reprimanded for their alleged corruption and lies. Musharraf has proved to be rather foolhardy in thinking that he would be able to waltz his way into the country in the hope of winning something in these elections. His is no ordinary case of political crime and deception; he faces some serious charges including his role in the murder of a former prime minister and governor/chief minister. Treason carries the ultimate punishment and could prove to be the coup-maker’s worst nightmare. Pakistan’s history is replete with dictators and coup makers getting away with their crimes, unscathed by the laws of this land. Even Ziaul Haq, whose policies have brought this country to its knees, has not received his just desserts even after being incinerated in a plane crash. The harsh steps being taken against Musharraf could very well see the beginning of a precedent being set to ward off all those who inherently oppose democracy. He must be tried with the full force of the law and, if his guilt is proved in any or all of the above cases, he must be punished accordingly. There have been too many roadblocks in this country’s long and treacherous path towards political stability; let justice be finally served to discourage future would-be coup makers. *