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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Leveling the Field: Challenges in Pakistani Politics

In the realm of Pakistani politics, the concept of a level playing field remains elusive. As the parties in power convene in Dubai to strategize for the upcoming electoral contest, concerns regarding fairness and impartiality come to the forefront. This text delves into the pressing need for neutrality in the electoral process, highlighting the role of groundsmen, umpires, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Since Mariyam Safdar (MS), the daughter of Nawaz Sharif (NS), returned from London after stabilizing her ailing father’s platelet levels, she has been advocating for a “Level Playing Field” (LPF) in Pakistani politics. On November 19, 2019, NS left for London, allegedly faking his illness, and has been receiving treatment from Dr. David R. Lawerance of Sri Lanka. On September 4, 2022, Dr. Lawerance submitted a medical report to the Lahore High Court (LHC) detailing a long list of life-threatening ailments but did not mention NS’s current platelet count, which was the basis for his bail.

This reminded me of Dr. Mukhtar Randhawa, a retired Police Surgeon is known for issuing medical certificates as required by his patients, who practiced medicine near the Income Tax office on Nabha Road. There was also a character named “Chacha Emboss” in Istanbul during the 1980s and 1990s, who provided fake visas and international driving licenses to his compatriots, allowing them to enter Switzerland and purchase used goods for resale to Turks. He was apprehended and convicted when a civilian government came into power in Turkey.

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LPF remains a myth in the politics of Pakistan. According to former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, every election since 1970 has been rigged in the country. His party claims that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came into power in 2018 with the support of the establishment. Although I was underage and unable to vote in 1970, I have voted in every subsequent election. Despite living abroad, my late father Nazir Ahmed Malik, a Freedom Movement worker, insisted that I exercise my right to vote and be counted in my homeland. The electoral process in 2018 was relatively orderly and peaceful, mainly because the police were kept out of the process. However, there were allegations of pre-poll rigging and coercion to force electable candidates to join PTI.

Some observers believe that even the 1970 contest was not entirely free and fair

The establishment did not take the public support for the Awami League and the People’s Party seriously, and a hung parliament was expected. The military junta believed that Mujib’s Six Points were negotiable, as did Bhutto, but ultimately, Jinnah’s Pakistan was dismembered, and Bangladesh emerged after the surrender of troops in Dhaka.

In cricket, neutral umpiring and helmets were introduced relatively late, improving the game after about a century. Pakistan is still 24 years away from reaching this milestone. Pitches are prepared by groundsmen who are employees of the Cricket Boards and must follow the directives of their superiors. Similarly, for LPF in electoral contests, the groundsmen report to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which must ensure complete neutrality. When Justice Fakhar-Ud-din G. Ibrahim (Fakhru Bhai) was appointed as ECP in 2012, it was expected that the 2013 election would be free and fair, but it was not. Fakhru Bhai resigned and lived a quiet life until his death, seemingly carrying the burden of an unsuccessful inning.

He failed to provide LPF for all contesting players, as the groundsmen defied his orders in preparing the pitch. In 2014, the Chairman of PTI led a protest march to Islamabad, demanding re-elections. The sit-in continued until December 17, 2014, when the Army Public School attack in Peshawar led to the loss of innocent lives.

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Currently, the parties in power are meeting in Dubai to prepare favorable conditions for the upcoming electoral contest, all the while advocating for the need for a Level Playing Field (LPF). They have cordoned off a field with the assistance of the groundsmen, favoring the largest and most popular political party in the country. The match is expected to take place in October this year. However, despite the constitutional requirement and orders from the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has failed to organize the contest within the specified timeframe due to the refusal of the groundsmen to prepare the pitch.

The ECP must first establish its neutrality, followed by ensuring compliance from the groundsmen. Without neutral groundsmen, similar to umpires who operate under the watchful eye of cameras, the electoral contest will neither be free nor fair. The current ECP has been mired in controversy. Since the promulgation of the 1973 constitution, the current bureaucrat heading the commission is the first of his kind, but he has failed to fulfill his duties adequately. Bhutto, due to his lack of faith in the neutrality of the bureaucracy, mandated the appointment of judges from the superior judiciary for this position. As the experiment has proven unsuccessful, judges should return to this role with a stronger mandate to control the groundsmen. A credible election is the only way forward, and complete neutrality of the system is essential.

Those who have been thrust into power, manipulating the process with their own umpires and preparing their own pitches through collaboration with the groundsmen, stand no chance when faced with a level and neutral field. LPF is meant for individuals who uphold dignity and honor, refraining from faking illnesses to gain favor. Those who defy courts and judges yet appear before them and even attack them to obstruct their lawful convictions. Clients of “Chacha Emboss” were able to pursue lucrative business opportunities in Europe through fake travel documents, but this corrupt system was eventually exposed and dismantled. The same deceptive approach was adopted by the “Royal Family” of Pakistan through the use of the “Calibri Font,” which was ultimately revealed. The People’s Party, under the Bhuttos, remained true to its ideological course, which has since been abandoned under the Zardaris of Nawabshah.

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Now they prepare their own pitches, as evidenced in the recent mayoral contest in Karachi. However, they still believe in elections held according to their specified timing. There must be a grand consensus on level fields, neutral umpires, and obedient groundsmen who strictly adhere to legal and constitutional directives. Only such a contest will be remembered and revered by history, while others will fade away as nightmares to be erased from memory. Pakistan and its suffering masses must move forward under the rule of law and the constitution. Just as platelets keep humans alive, nations are built on the foundations of honesty and integrity, never without them.

Now that NS has decided to return to the field, a credible report on his current platelet count must be obtained before allowing him to participate, as his medical condition, as reported by Dr. Lawerance of Sri Lanka, who practices in London, may not be conducive to his involvement.


The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.