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Birthday reflections

By Ashraf  Jehangir Qazi

After the Supreme Court verdict on July 28, Nawaz Sharif launched a ridiculous and farcical ‘power show’ in which he is playing four roles simultaneously: those of hero, martyr, victim and revolutionary! Even the great Dilip Kumar would have envied such a performance. But where will it lead? It is a desperate and sterile move that can produce nothing good for Pakistan. It has no purpose other than to preserve a craven, sycophantic and anti-people politics in the service of elite interests.

Nawaz Sharif promised in parliament to go home without a moment’s hesitation if even the merest evidence of his corruption was presented. The JIT presented a ton of evidence in 10 volumes which formed the basis for his unanimous disqualification, and for references on possible criminal charges against him and his family. Decency, moral courage and self-respect should have made him quit after the first judgement of the Supreme Court on April 20. While the court split two to three over the prime minister’s disqualification, all five judges made severe criticisms on his conduct including evasive and inconsistent responses to their questions. After the July 28 unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to disqualify him for life from public and party office he has demonstrated his determination to thwart the implementation of the court’s decision. He is now showing a passion for personal political survival that he has never demonstrated for the country. The ousted prime minister’s latest outbursts demonstrate a brazen contempt of the highest court in the land. It is shocking but not surprising. In 1997, his party supporters, including his ministers, physically assaulted the Supreme Court and compelled the then chief justice to flee for his life. The current political repetition of this assault exposes the kind of governance the ex-prime minister represents. A truly dangerous political theatre of the absurd is being played in Punjab with potentially grave consequences for the country.

Democratic politics’ in Pakistan has become the name of stealing from the people in billions. Punjab has around 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population and an even higher percentage in the country’s most important civilian and military institutions. Accordingly, it has a responsibility to earn the trust and confidence of the smaller provinces. But it has not delivered on this responsibility. Its governing elites have not contributed to the political and institutional development of Pakistan. They have not facilitated a sense of national participation and unity in the smaller provinces. Nor have they maintained Pakistan’s territorial integrity. Moreover, they have refused to learn lessons that could have prevented the current dysfunctional state of the country. However, the elites of the smaller provinces cannot escape their share of blame, even if it is relatively less because of size and power. Their political misdemeanors, moreover, have tended to be reactive rather than proactive. For Pakistan to survive and prosper it can no longer be ruled as ‘Punjabistan’. Nawaz Sharif may have wittingly or unwittingly contributed to this sense of exclusion and resentment in the smaller provinces. But he is far from being the only or even the main reason for this situation. Moreover, this is not in the interest of the people of Punjab as they have the most to offer in building and ensuring the future of Pakistan. They have also the most to lose if the policies of their leaders remain short-sighted, self-serving and parochial.

‘Democratic politics’ in Pakistan has become the name of stealing from the people in billions and politically laundering this loot through spending on the people in millions. The robbed are grateful and the robbers are delighted. A win-win situation? This is the ideology of the ‘revolution’ that the power show on GT Road has in mind. One can only say to the people along with Iqbal: Azkhwaab-i-girankhez! Public deceit has been made an art form, and it is on public display every day. Its practitioners often exhibit a fake defiance of the power establishment. They combine this with a reluctant and resentful pandering to the same power establishment they pretend to defy. They only bare their fangs when the power establishment from time to time stops playing partner.

Normally, these muk-mukka artists seek a power-political deal whereby the power party continues to exercise political influence and decision/policy making authority beyond what the Constitution and a working democracy permit; and the political party amasses unimaginable wealth stolen from a poor people in return for conceding much of its constitutional policy-making obligations to the ‘establishment’. Such Faustian deals have a tendency to go wrong as has happened again. The political scene then gets unscripted. The muk-mukka gets interrupted. Some see this as the rough and tumble of developing democracy. In reality, good governance, the provision of basic services, human resource development, human rights protections etc all of which determine the future of the country  are thrown out of the window. Cynical and well-heeled observers tend to view this as either ‘true, but uninteresting’ or ‘untrue, because somebody up there will save us from ourselves’. This articulates the essence of a soft and failing state. To be fair, those now openly accused by the ousted prime minister of conspiring to send him home do indeed have a chequered past. They have a lot to answer for regarding the state of the country.

On its 70th anniversary, Pakistan faces a set of looming catastrophes at home and derision and isolation abroad. Corrupt civilian leadership, irresponsible military interference and intervention, and judicial pandering to the powers that be have been among the cast of characters responsible for this tragedy. Nevertheless, to specifically allege that the Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict in the Panama case is part of such an ongoing conspiracy, in the absence of specific supporting evidence, is irresponsible and regrettable. However, a number of learned and respectable people, including lawyers, subscribe to such views because their experience testifies to them. Their concerns need to be allayed by ensuring no ‘leader’  civilian or military  escapes accountability.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

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