Saad Rasool |
The decline of a man, his political clique, political culture, and political time, is being televised, live, across Pakistan.
At the time of writing this piece, the long (and futile) journey of Mr. Nawaz Sharif, has entered into its final stages (the infamous journey is now over). His caravan of supporters, dwindling in parts, has just entered the territorial limits of Lahore. And still, even at this penultimate moment, before whatever will be his final speech at the feet of Badshahi Mosque, there are no signs of success in PML(N)’s quest to restore Mr. Nawaz Sharif to the echelons of political power.
This is not simply the chronicle of a man who is “returning home”. These are sounds and images of a dynasty that has finally collapsed
It is important to trace Mr. Sharif’s journey to this moment, where he seems nothing more than a tired man, who has lost his political punch as well as all semblance of democratic ethics. It is pertinent to ask why Mr. Sharif finds himself politically isolated today (even in the midst of thousands of supporters).
It is essential to understand what would bring a man like Mr. Sharif, who has been the very heart of Pakistan’s status quo for almost four decades, to say that he has been targeted by some undefined conspiracy, which stretched from the shores of Panama to the cathedrals of justice and khaki doors of Rawalpindi.
But before addressing these issues, it is first necessary to analyze the transition in Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s rhetoric over the past several days – ever since he started this circus journey from Islamabad to Lahore.
Is the Constitution now ‘enemy No. 1’ against the democratic enterprise? And if so, should it be replaced with some other social contract
During the initial days of disqualification, while traveling between Changla Gali and Islamabad, Mr. Sharif had been (erroneously) told that his popularity was enough to overwhelm State institutions. That if he went to the public, through the GT Road, his reception would be a spectacle that uproots the foundations of our Constitution.
And that the establishment – in particular, the army and the judiciary – will have no choice but to restore him somehow… even if that means overturning all established canons of jurisprudence and statecraft. That he did not need to directly criticize these institutions… because the public pressure, in itself, would be a testament to his unrivaled political power.
Boy! Were his advisors (led by Ms. Maryam Nawaz) wrong, or what!
As the journey started, Mr. Sharif suddenly discovered that he was the emperor without clothes. That his popularity was not enough to overwhelm anyone except the likes of Talal Chaudhary and Marvi Memon. And as this really started to dawn on Mr. Sharif, his rhetoric started to change. He was no longer just a guy who was “returning home”. He was an embattled creature.
As an extension of this ‘five people’ contention, Mr. Sharif seems to be arguing that constitutionalism is somehow a hindrance for democracy
He was someone who needed to curse the establishment and the judiciary. He could no longer just allude to such ideas. He had to proclaim them, outright. Only to discover that in the marketplace of ideas, no one really wants to purchase what he was selling.
As the journey became onerous, so did his rhetoric. His speeches – especially the recent and belligerent ones – focus on three central ideas. And these must be dealt with individually.
First, Mr. Sharif, in his recent speeches, claims that the Army (i.e. “establishment”) has sent democratic governments packing, over the past 70 years. Fair enough. There is no denying that Army has repeatedly abrogated the Constitution, throughout our history. And they must be criticized for it. Depending on individual partisan proclivities, some believe that the Army is behind Mr. Sharif’s dismissal too. But regardless of whether that is true or not, what is far more relevant at this particular moment is: can Mr. Nawaz Sharif make such a claim? Can he criticize the army for dabbling into politics?
That exact same Constitution also creates the honorable Supreme Court (Article 175), empowers it to interpret the law, and to disqualify parliamentarians on the basis of Article 62 and 6
Did Mr. Sharif not come to power, during the 1980s, simply because he was the favorite child of perhaps the most nefarious of all military rulers in our history – the late General Zia-ul-Haq? Did he not conspire with the then army to dislodge the elected government of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in 1990 (as has now been established through the Asghar Khan case)? Did he not continue to conspire against democracy throughout the 1990s, in order to ensure that PPP governments do not complete their term? Can he – of all the people – point fingers at the Army now?
Second, Mr. Sharif claims that ‘five people’ have sent him packing, even though millions had voted him in. That these five ‘people’ have somehow robbed democracy of its essence, and “embarrassed” Pakistan in the international community. First of all, how many “people” dismissed Yousaf Raza Gillani, when Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his party were cheering for it? In any case, notwithstanding the contemptuous language, Mr. Sharif needs to be reminded that it was not just five “people” who sent him packing; it was the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan.
And they were empowered by the Constitution of Pakistan to do so. The same Constitution that mandates an election, and creates the National Assembly (Article 50). The same Constitution that creates a government and the post of the Prime Minister (Article 90). That exact same Constitution also creates the honorable Supreme Court (Article 175), empowers it to interpret the law, and to disqualify parliamentarians on the basis of Article 62 and 63. This is not a sultanate, Mr. Sharif. We have laws here.
The decline of a man, his political clique, political culture, and political time, is being televised, live, across Pakistan
And courts that are empowered to interpret and apply such laws. Even one (unconfirmed) judge of a provincial High Court is empowered by the Constitution to dismiss the Prime Minister. Because we live in a government of laws, not individuals. And you would do well to remember that.
Third, as an extension of this ‘five people’ contention, Mr. Sharif seems to be arguing that constitutionalism is somehow a hindrance for democracy. At each stop, he asks his supporters whether they will defend the people’s mandate. An oath of allegiance to the ‘vote’, as opposed to the judgment of the honorable Supreme Court. And this idea – of pitting democracy against constitutionalism, or pitting anarchy against rule of law – is perhaps the most nefarious part of Mr. Sharif’s speeches.
Has the PML(N) really thought this through? Have their political and legal advisors considered the consequences of such rhetoric? That anyone who gathers a few thousand people in the streets can claim that he is now above the law; above the Constitution and the courts? Is that what Mr. Sharif calls a democracy?
During the initial days of disqualification, while traveling between Changla Gali and Islamabad, Mr. Sharif had been told that his popularity was enough to overwhelm State institutions
Is the Constitution now ‘enemy No. 1’ against the democratic enterprise? And if so, should it be replaced with some other social contract where the power of vote can wash away all crime?
If a murderer produces a thousand people in his support, should he be exonerated? Also, should we start convicting people, based on how many people demand it? And if that is so, how many people (across Pakistan) can be summoned by all opposition parties (through a grand conspiracy) to convict Mr. Sharif?
This is not simply the chronicle of a man who is “returning home”. These are sounds and images of a dynasty that has finally collapsed. And this decline – this slow and painful crumbling of a political culture – is being televised, live. If for no other reason, then simply as a cautionary tale! Let us watch, and learn.
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. This piece was first published in The Nation. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.