Pakistan could be moving toward new era of accountability
There was nearly complete silence in Pakistan on Friday morning, as it was Judgment Day, not only for Nawaz Sharif, but also for his dynasty. Pakistanis around the world were glued to their television screens, and this time it was not because their very own Shahid Afridi was holding the bat on the cricket pitch to hit a six, but instead, the sitting prime minister was doing the batting.
As soon as the clock ticked to 12:10, the silence increased, because Sharif was out, disqualified by the Supreme Court on corruption charges.
And then started the theories, living-room talks and, of course, blame games.
To be sure, a faction of the people – not only supporters of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, but others too – were happy with the verdict, holding the opinion that it was only through such judicial decisions that the gates would close on corruption and money-laundering in Pakistan. But on the other hand, there was also a group who were of the view that the Supreme Court judgment was a black one, in fact terming it a “judicial coup” – an alliance of the country’s strong establishment and the judiciary.
Just 10 months away from completing his five-year term in office, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Sharif was sent home. With this, he also became the first Pakistani prime minister who was elected three times but couldn’t complete a single term.
Sharif had come to power in the 2013 general elections, with the largest chunk of votes, but mainly on his Punjab card. While it is true that his party did work for the development of the country, he failed to create the supremacy of democracy and of the state institutions. Sharif wanted and worked for peace with India, but he failed to listen to the concerns of the Baluchs, or of the people of Karachi.
After the final verdict was out, the ruling party’s outcry was that now it was high time to decide who will rule Pakistan, the establishment or civilian supremacy. But certainly, in Sharif’s third term, he failed to create the latter. As soon as the proceedings started in the court, the democratically elected government was busy defending the ruling family, who were investigated for their money-laundering crimes. And now that it’s over, the ruling party is busy trying to shift the blame for its own weakness and failures on to someone else’s shoulders.
It’s true that the grounds used for Sharif’s disqualification may well be used against other parliamentarians, even against the ones who took the case to the Supreme Court as petitioners. Senior political analysts are saying that if the same grounds were applied in their pure letter and spirit, Parliament would be short of parliamentarians.
But then again, why didn’t the ruling party and the government itself make amendments to legislation that was a threat to civilian supremacy? In fact, in a parliamentary session, the man selected by Sharif as his defense minister, Khawaja Asif, advised the prime minister not to indulge his critics by discussing or explaining his wealth, as the Pakistani nation would soon forget about the Panama Papers and that the children of their sitting PM had been named therein as linked to offshore businesses.
What next for Pakistan?
Let’s take it this way. Regardless of the final decision, the world has seen that a highly welcome precedent has been set in Pakistan. A sitting prime minister, his children and others in his family were questioned and were brought before a court of justice to explain their sources of income.
The Panama Papers inquiry may be the start of a new era of accountability in Pakistani culture, because it’s a country where public officials are known to live beyond their known sources of income.
No one can reject the role of the army in Pakistan’s politics, as the military is often referred to as a “state within a state”, but if people are elected on merit, elected officials work for the country’s good, and governments practice democracy more strongly, the scenario could change. At the end of the day, it is the democratic system that is important, not individuals.
Democracy in Pakistan is not under threat with the exit of Sharif; instead, it may be stronger. The country will need a free, fair and independent judiciary, acting within its constitutional limits. Also, future prime ministers may take such cases as the Panama leaks, money-laundering, forgery and yes, the Calibri font seriously. And in that way, they will take civilian rule seriously, and that is the need of the hour in Pakistan.
If a sitting prime minister can be held accountable, then anyone can be.