When General Ziaul Haq and his fellow generals removed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from the power on 5 July 1977, it was believed that Bhutto’s politics was finally over. When Bhutto was subsequently released on bail, the public at large gathered in his support.
General Zia and his cohorts became tense after witnessing this situation that Bhutto was still very popular amongst the masses. General Zia had promised after the coup that elections would be held within ninety days. Had the elections been held, it would have been counter-productive for the army generals who were at the helm of the affairs. General Zia first raised the slogan of accountability, and then under the garb of Islamisation, succeeded in postponing the elections.
One of the strongest opposition leaders, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, who formed Tehreek-e-Istiqlal, was of the view at that time that he was in a strong position to form a government. But after the elections got postponed, he was put under detention by General Zia’s regime, and for five years he remained in oblivion in his house. General Zia then ruled in continuum for eleven years. Bhutto was hanged on 3 April 1979 as result of the judicial verdict, which many political experts termed as judicial murder.
At present, the conditions are not akin to what was witnessed in 1977.Today, neither Nawaz Sharif is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, nor the Chief of Army Staff is Ziaul Haq. However, there is one similarity. That is when Nawaz was disqualified by the supreme court under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution of Pakistan, many political experts were of the view that the politics of Nawaz Sharif has come to an end. Gradually, the situation changed dramatically, and the wounds of disqualification were healed. Today, Nawaz Sharif has once again survived the crisis and at present is the most popular leader after the flop show of Tahir-ul-Qadri, Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari, witnessed in Lahore recently.
The PML-N is not only governing at the centre but also controlling affairs in Punjab. Nawaz Sharif has managed to gain sympathy from the public at large after the recent Supreme Court verdict. At present, he is criticising with impunity the army establishment as well as superior judiciary showing no respect at all. The recent decision of the honourable Supreme Court, punishing the contemnor Nehal Hashmi for one month is a warning to the legislators belonging to the ruling party, who in their speeches to the public have shown no respect towards the superior judiciary.
We are living in a society where a leader succeeds in sustaining popularity, despite serious allegations of money laundering and failure to prove his wealth and assets proportional to his sources of income before the SC
It seems that the fever of Panama has shrunk and the political gimmick played by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter has proved to be fruitful for the PML-N as if he has obtained a clean chit. Nawaz Sharif, no doubt has risen as a strong leader and is in firm control over the affairs of the party, whereas his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif is performing his duty as the Chief Minister of Punjab, the younger Sharif is dreaming of the slot of Premiership. It seems that the biggest opposition being faced by Shahbaz is from within the party as Mian Nawaz Sharif‘s daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif is vying for the same slot.
Maryam had to resign when the Lahore High Court inquired about her qualification and experience regarding the control of youth loan scheme. But who knows what tomorrow may bring?
Contrary to all this discussion, ours is a society where qualification does not matter. We are living in a society where a leader succeeds in sustaining his popularity despite the serious allegations of money laundering and failure to prove his wealth and assets proportional to his sources of income before the Supreme Court. Recently, people in Romania launched a massive protest against its parliament for passing a bill to protect its corrupt elite under which the evidence submitted through audio and video will no longer be admissible.
There is friction within the ruling party, but prima facie Nawaz Sharif has overcome this threat through his resurgence and grip over the party affairs. Once upon a time, Nawaz Sharif was the blue-eyed boy of military establishment but, at present, his politics is vociferously aimed at the military’s control over the state affairs. Nawaz Sharif never had good relations with the army.
It remains to be seen whether Nawaz Sharifis disqualified under Article62(1)(f) for an indefinite period or not. The question arises: if a person convicted of an offence gets disqualified for a particular period from contesting the elections as prescribed in Article 63 of the constitution, then how can a person get disqualified for an indefinite period if he is not held, Sadiq and Ameen. Keeping in consideration the principles of justice and law of proportionality, all we can hope is that the supreme court’s five-member bench would delineate a time period which would not be so long resulting in a person’s political career coming to an end abruptly.
The writer is a human rights and constitutional lawyer
Published in Daily Times, February 4th 2018.