The political crisis in the country seems to be deepening with each passing day as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N’s) disqualified prime minister, Nawaz Sharif and his henchmen are openly criticizing the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s verdict of unseating Sharif. After initial circumspection within the PML-N circles about the SCP disqualification of Sharif in the Panama corruption scandal, the party cadres have come into the open to decry the apex court’s decision regarding Sharif. This is part of a well thought out strategy of the PML-N, as the survival of the party and its future is at stake.
Former prime minister Sharif has taken to task the SCP by trying to prove that the decision of the apex court of his disqualification was biased and pronounced with malafide intent. This is a serious matter and is a question mark on the legal institution of the country. Rather, it is an effort by the PML-N to disparage the higher judiciary of the country and the very institution which is guardian of the constitution and with it the fundamentals of state. So the PML-N is itself rocking the very constitutional foundations of the country. This does not augur well for the state, its institutions and democracy in the country. An important aspect of this strategy is that the attack on the judiciary is coming from the incumbent political party. In other words the PML-N despite being in power and having its government at the centre and in the largest and smallest provinces of the country—the Punjab and Balochistan—is acting like an opposition party. This is not just an observation or analysis, but the PML-N Federal Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq has also admitted this and asked his party it should not behave like an opposition party. But irrespective of the advice of Rafiq, opposition seems to be the strategy and compulsion of the PML-N. Because it is for the first time in the country’s history that the SCP has disqualified the prime minister of a ruling party on the charges of corruption. It must be remembered that in 1993, when Nawaz Sharif was dismissed as prime minister by the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, he was restored readily by the SCP of Pakistan then headed by Chief Justice Nasim Hassan Shah. Whereas, it is also a very substantial argument by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that the party and its prime ministers and governments have received harsh treatment by the superior courts of the country. In this respect the PPP cites the execution of PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s hanging as an example and terms it a “judicial murder.”
Thus, it is for the first time that the SCP without bringing into consideration who the culprit was, has given a decision of disqualification of Prime Minister Sharif on purely technical and legal grounds. The PML-N and its leaders know very well and understand the legality and substantiality of the disqualification of Sharif. However, in order to survive as a political party and resuscitate its prospects for the next general elections, the party has come up with a strategy to bring into question the SCP decision in order to convince the electorate that the party has been harshly dealt with by the country’s highest court. So attacking the judiciary is a defence mechanism for the PML-N and the Sharif clan. For this, the party and its government is taking the support of propaganda and trying to defend the indefensible. However, in the process the PML-N is striking at the very roots of democracy and the constitution of the country. There is substantial evidence and grounds for disqualifying Sharif but even if there are some legal shortcomings in the SCP verdict, the decision has to be accepted without any question. It is the profoundly important matter of respect for the constitutional institutions of the state. So if a ruling party itself is in a defiance mode vis-à-vis other state institutions, it is extremely dangerous for the political stability of the country, its constitution and the state itself.
The ruling PML-N also as part of its strategy of late has been trying to prove that the country’s establishment is also somehow behind the disqualification of Sharif. This is a very shrewd move by the ruling party and the message and propaganda is directed in this regard at different audiences. These include the international community, the PML-N supporters and the citizens of Pakistan at large. The PML-N is trying to prove that as has been previously the case in Pakistan, when the country’s military-civilian establishment conspired against the elected governments, this time too the same forces are involved. This argument is totally inappropriate because the Panama corruption scandal was not brought to light by the country’s establishment, but a world-renowned body of investigative journalists, the International Consortium of Journalists (ICJ). Again the government is trying to defend the indefensible.
After the disqualification of Sharif, the PML-N and the Sharif family expected that they would be able to gather a large number of people on the roads to prove that the public still supported the PML-N and, thus, has little faith in the SCP verdict against Sharif. In this regard, the party and its federal and Punjab governments organized a journey and rallies from Islamabad to Lahore led by Sharif. However, the party failed to get an impressive public response. Then the PML-N concentrated all its energies and the state resources in winning a resounding victory in NA 120, the parliamentary seat which fell vacant due to the disqualification of Sharif. However, despite all out efforts and ruthless use of taxpayers’ money the PML-N won the seat, but not before a significant reduction in the percentage of its polled votes. Whereas, its main opponent the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), whose chairman Imran Khan was the main petitioner in the Panama corruption scandal against Sharif in the SCP, saw increase in the percentage of the cast votes. This came as a big blow to the PML-N because NA 120 is not only a seat but the ancestral electoral constituency of the Sharifs. So the result in Lahore has shown the PML-N the writing on the wall. This fueled an all out verbal offensive against the superior judiciary, the PTI as well as the country’s establishment. A telling point of this strategy was reached when Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was stopped by personnel of the Rangers in Islamabad from entering the accountability court premises where cases of corruption against Sharif filed by the National Accountability Bureau were being heard. Ahsan Iqbal, while trying to reach an international audience, said in English that Pakistan was not a banana republic where two sets of authorities work. He also vowed to fix those responsible for stopping him from entering the court, saying all the law enforcement agencies were under his command. However, the fact of the matter is that a court can call any LEA to its support and security and in the court premises everyone is equal. But the problem is that the government, as part of the strategy of trying to malign the judiciary and military so as to prove that the ruling party and its leaders are innocent, is determined to confront the military and judiciary at every possible turn_directly or by implication.
The PML-N may not be able to revive its prospects in the next elections but in order to prove itself innocent, would inflict irreparable damage on the country. This sorry episode needs to be dealt with more expeditiously than hitherto has been done. With the external enemies baying at the gates, as it were, it is imperative to establish an internal stability and economic progress.