Pakistan today is face-to-face with hard realities in the governance of its “democratic order”, with the judiciary playing a pro-active role against corrupt practices among top functionaries of its political executive. This, understandably, does not suit the ruling establishment that had, till recently, managed its way.
In a series of melodramatic events in recent weeks, first of all Yousaf Raza Gilani had to bow out of his coveted position as Prime Minister after the Supreme Court disqualified him in response to several petitions that had challenged the National Assembly Speaker’s decision not to debar him following his conviction of contempt. Gilani faced the Supreme Court’s wrath for his refusal to reopen corruption cases against President Zardari.
We then saw a series of moves in the ruling PPP’s search for Gilani’s successor. Makhdoom Shahabuddin was the first choice of the Pakistan People’s Party. The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) Judge Shfqatullah Khan in Rawalpindi, however, issued arrest warrants against Shahabuddin and Gilani’s son Ali Musa Gilani for their alleged irregularities in the import of controlled drugs. That ended Shahabuddin’s prospects of becoming premier.
The focus thereafter shifted on to Raja Parvez Ashraf. He has already been sworn in as Prime Minister by President Zardari. A strong loyalist of the Bhutto family, he had served twice in the Gilani cabinet but was disqualified by the Supreme Court. He resigned in February last year but returned to the cabinet in April this year. We are not sure how the National Accountability Court is going to tackle his matter for his alleged involvement in the $ 1.5 billion rental power projects scam. His policy of renting power projects had earned him the nickname “Raja Rental”. Ashraf has denied these charges.
If we look at the Pakistan setting dispassionately, we find that, like the apex court in India, the Supreme Court in Pakistan is also extra alert and has launched an all-out war against corrupt practices among some of the key political persons ruling the country. To say this is not to suggest that Pakistan’s judicial system is all clean and transparent. Far from it! Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary was once unquestioned hero for his crusade against corruption and misdeeds in Pakistan. Unfortunately, today his son is accused of taking favours from a businessman. But then the Supreme Court has made Zardari’s corruption cases a prestige issue.
Can this be seen as a threat to Pakistan’s fragile democratic order? Shouldn’t the Supreme Court adopt a more tolerant and understanding attitude and avoid taking extreme steps that could upset Pakistan’s political stability and pave the way for return of military rule? This is a debatable matter. There can be angles and angles of looking at the entire scene. The main point is: Is corruption among key functionaries of the ruling class good for the future of democracy? Certainly not. This amounts to cheating the people of Pakistan. It is the job of the Supreme Court to keep a tab on the system as per the provisions in the Pakistan Constitution. Otherwise, the people would lose faith in democracy, howsoever fragile it may be.
Interestingly, Chairman of the Press Council of India Justice Markanday Katju thinks that Pakistan’s Supreme Court, particularly its Chief Justice, has gone overboard. He says that the court has been showing utter lack of restraint as the PM “holds office as long as he has confidence of Parliament, not confidence of the Supreme Court’’. Justice Katju is technically right. However, the moot point is: Can the Supreme Court overlook corrupt practices of the government functionaries and look the other way?
We can see a parallel in our own country. We had, however, our Anna Hazare who could create public opinion and build pressures on the government to take steps for establishing a viable system of transparency and accountability. In the absence of Anna Hazare there, we don’t see any anti-corruption movement in Pakistan. In this context, the role of the judiciary becomes very important.
We very much like the forces of democracy to get strengthened in Islamabad. What is necessary is building of bridges of cooperation and mutual confidence between the two neighbours. For the present, it is reassuring that PM Ashraf wants to build peaceful ties with Afghanistan, Iran and India. He also wishes to strengthen the process of talks to solve the problems, including the Kashmir issue.
These are positive pointers. But then the new PM has already come under pressure to launch corruption enquiry against Zardari. Would Ashraf now be made a sacrificial lamb in the Zardari-SC row? This is Pakistan’s internal mater. We cannot sit over judgment in the fast-moving developments of that country. I hope the Islamabad establishment would be able to overcome its domestic problems.
We see some signs of resilience in Pakistan today. The media, intellectuals, members of the civil society and the new class of politicians seem to be a worried lot. They wish to find right answers to their problems. A lot will depend on the Army. General Kayani might have his own angles and angularities of looking at the judiciary. Who knows the military establishment might be relishing the exposure of politicians, especially President Zardari, in corruption cases! Who knows the judiciary might be having an indirect support of the military establishment in this regard! This suits the Army as and when it wishes to return to power. However, the public opinion in Pakistan today is against another Army coup. The people and the media have begun to relish democracy and freedom, howsoever limited might be their range.
The Indo-Pak dialogue, meanwhile, has to remain stuck for the time being. As it is, there was no breakthrough in the official-level talks on the Sir Creek and Siachen issues recently. In fact, nothing can move forward unless Pakistan is able to solve its immediate domestic crises. We hope and pray for the continuation of a vibrant democracy in Pakistan, preferably without the shadows of corruption.
(The writer is an eminently close observer of Pakistan affairs) (ADNI)