THE HINDU EDITORIAL – 31, July – 2017

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a) Uncertainty ahead

The disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office, by the Pakistan Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case, leaves a huge political vacuum in the country. This is the third time Mr. Sharif’s premiership has been cut short. If his first two terms were ended by the country’s powerful military, first forcing him to resign and then overthrowing his government in a coup, this time it was through a formal legal process. The Supreme Court invoked a controversial Article of the Constitution that requires politicians to be “honest” and “righteous”. The court ruled that Mr. Sharif was dishonest in failing to disclose in his 2013 election nomination papers his association with a UAE-based company and therefore was unfit to continue in office. The court also referred money-laundering allegations against Mr. Sharif and his children to the National Accountability Bureau, the anti-corruption regulator. While Opposition politicians, especially the Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Imran Khan who filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the Sharif family, have welcomed the ruling as an endorsement of accountability, there are some worrying legal and procedural questions about the Supreme Court’s decision. For instance, should it have waited for the full investigation into the corruption allegations before disqualifying him? At the practical level, the focus is on whether Mr. Sharif’s exit will fuel political instability. A seasoned politician with immense popularity and experience in dealing with the military, he upheld his authority in his third term despite sustained pressure from the generals. There were occasional flashpoints, but the military largely refrained from showing its hand. It had chosen to exercise its powers over the executive indirectly, to avoid public disenchantment of the sort that undermined its image during the years of Pervez Musharraf’s presidency. Over the last four years Pakistan has had a spell of relative economic stability, an easing of the electricity crisis and a drop in terror attacks. But now that Mr. Sharif is gone, it is not clear how the military will deal with any resultant political instability or executive frailty. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has quickly named Shahbaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister’s brother and the Chief Minister of Punjab, as his successor to ensure a smooth transition as well as to stop its rivals from gaining from a prolonged crisis. But the younger Sharif, who had a run-in with the military last year, has big shoes to fill at a challenging time. With Pakistan going to the polls next year and the opposition, mainly Mr. Khan’s PTI which is in effect the king’s party, trying to turn corruption into a galvanising electoral issue, Shahbaz Sharif will take charge while the country is virtually in campaign mode. All this is happening at a time when Pakistan is coming under increased pressure from the United States to act against militants, and while border tensions with India and Afghanistan continue to remain high. Even with his brother’s backroom support, Shahbaz Sharif will have his plate full.

b) Pakistan sticks to a sad tradition

The decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reaffirms the iron law of Pakistani politics: a politician can amass wealth and engage in corruption only as long as he does not challenge the ascendance of the country’s powerful national security establishment. Although Mr. Sharif has ostensibly been disqualified over the so-called Panama Papers, which exposed holders of offshore bank accounts, the verdict against him has little to do with the revelations in the Panama Papers. Mr. Sharif and his family have definitely expanded their assets several fold since his entry into politics more than three decades ago as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, and the former chief of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But he was not put on trial for corruption and convicted. Instead, the Supreme Court acted politically, as it often does, and created a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that included military intelligence representatives. The JIT’s job was ostensibly to uncover the trail of the Sharifs’ wealth and the Supreme Court used the JIT’s findings to determine that Mr. Sharif could no longer fulfil the constitutionally mandated qualifications for his office. When he ended Martial Law, General Zia had added several provisions to Pakistan’s Constitution, some of which related to moral qualifications for membership of parliament. Their purpose was to give the all-powerful national security establishment a constitutional instrument to control the political process even after the military’s withdrawal from direct political intervention. Those provisions have finally been invoked to rid Pakistan of a meddlesome Prime Minister.

Articles of expediency

During the 1990s, civilian Prime Ministers who failed to toe the line in key policy areas could be dismissed by the President, who was always a reliable establishment figure. After three dismissals, twice of the army’s bête noire Benazir Bhutto and once of Mr. Sharif, the civilians got rid of Article 58-2(b) of the Constitution that authorised the President to unilaterally dissolve Parliament and dismiss Prime Ministers. The absence of the establishment’s safety valve paved the way for General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup in 1999. Aware that the 21st century is less conducive to direct military takeovers than preceding decades, Gen Musharraf reintroduced the notion of presidential dismissal before sharing power with civilians again. The civilians dispensed with it again in a consensus constitutional package in 2008. Since then, Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, inserted by Zia and ironically kept alive with the support of Mr. Sharif and Pakistan’s religious parties, have been cited as the means whereby the establishment can keep politicians on the straight and narrow. In its judgment disqualifying Mr. Sharif, the Supreme Court has found him in violation of Article 62 (1)(f) that demands that members of Parliament be “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and Ameen”. The last of these, “Ameen”, meaning ‘the keeper of trust’ is one of the attributes of Prophet Muhammad, which by definition is a hard standard to meet for any Muslim who deems the Prophet ‘the most perfect’ human being. Ordinary mortals can easily be found in violation of that noble standard. By claiming the right to disqualify any elected representative of his/her office for not meeting such exacting standards of probity, the Pakistani Supreme Court has arrogated to itself the authority similar to that of Iran’s Guardian Council, which vets all candidates for elective office. The Council routinely disqualifies politicians on grounds that they are not sufficiently dedicated to Islamic values.

Setting a precedent

The disqualification of Mr. Sharif sets the precedent for future judicial coups. That does not mean Mr. Sharif has not amassed wealth beyond explainable means or does not have property across the world that might have been acquired through questionable transactions. But corruption must be dealt with by legal means, not on the say of rival politicians or intelligence operatives operating without being subject to laws of evidence. If legally admissible evidence of corruption had existed, there would have been a trial, not direct intervention by the Supreme Court, which should only be the court of final appeal in criminal matters. So what is really going on? Pakistan is simply keeping its sad tradition that disallows politicians to ever be voted out of office by the voters who elected them to that office in the first place. In the last seventy years, all Pakistani Prime Ministers have either been assassinated, dismissed or forced to resign by heads of state with military backing, or deposed in coups d’etat. Mr. Sharif is the second Prime Minister, after Yousuf Raza Gilani, to be sent home by an activist Supreme Court amidst an orchestrated media furore. Ironically, Mr. Sharif was installed as Prime Minister in 1990 by the military in intrigue that was exposed decades later. That intrigue involved the army creating the multi-party alliance, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), through the ISI and funding Mr. Sharif and others with money taken from corrupt businessmen. At that time, the Pakistani establishment deemed Benazir Bhutto ‘a security risk’ over her avowed desire to change attitudes towards India and the rest of South Asia. Mr. Sharif fell out of the army’s favour when he decided to assert himself in the conduct of foreign and national security policy after becoming Prime Minister. He was ousted once by the President and a second time by the army chief in a coup. Elected for a third time, he has now been sent packing through the Supreme Court. He is clearly a flawed man but the manner of his removal from office is even more flawed.

The India connection

During the Panama Papers saga, Mr. Sharif was accused in social media of being an Indian agent and rumours swirled of his alleged investments in India and ‘secret partnerships’ with Indian businessmen. This reveals the real cause of anxiety with him, which could not be rumours of corruption because that did not bother the establishment when it initially supported him. The role Mr. Sharif played in the late 1980s, as the establishment’s Cat’s Paw, has now been taken over by cricketer-turned politician, Imran Khan. There is no guarantee, however, that if Mr. Khan ever comes to power he would not meet a similar fate when he insists on making policy instead of being content with having office and implementing the establishment’s prescriptions. Just like the IJI-ISI intrigue was fully uncovered decades later, we will probably find out details of the intrigue leading to Mr. Sharif’s ouster several years later too. Unfortunately, Mr. Sharif’s ouster is unlikely to stem the tide of widespread corruption in Pakistan. It might also not be the end of Mr. Sharif, who could possibly win another election in his Punjab base. But the episode proves again that Pakistan is far from being a democracy where the law takes its course, institutions work within their specified spheres and elected leaders are voted in or out by the people.

Words/ Vocabulary

1) Overthrowing

Meaning: Remove forcibly from power.

Example: Military coups which had attempted to overthrow the King.

Synonyms: Remove, bring down

2) Endorsement

Meaning: The action of endorsing someone or something.

Example: The issue of full independence received overwhelming endorsement.

Synonyms: Support, Backing, Approval

Antonyms: Opposition

3) Refrained

Meaning: Stop oneself from doing something.

Example: She refrained from comment.

Synonyms: Abstain, Desist, Hold back

4) Disenchantment

Meaning: A feeling of disappointment about someone or something you previously respected or admired; disillusionment.

Example: Their growing disenchantment with the leadership.

Synonyms: Disillusionment, Disappointment

5) Prolonged

Meaning: Continuing for a long time or longer than usual; lengthy.

Example: An idea which prolonged the life of the engine by many years.

Synonyms: Lengthen, Make longer

Antonyms: Shorten

6) Galvanising

Meaning: Shock or excite (someone) into taking action.

Example: The urgency of his voice galvanized them into action.

Synonyms: Jolt, Shock, Startle

Antonyms: Demotivate

7) Amass

Meaning: Gather together or accumulate (a large amount or number of material or things) over a period of time.

Example: He amassed a fortune estimated at close to a million pounds.

Synonyms: Gather, Collect

Antonyms: Dissipate

8) Ostensibly

Meaning: As appears or is stated to be true, though not necessarily so; apparently.

Example: The party secretary resigned, ostensibly from ill health.

Synonyms: apparently, Seemingly

Antonyms: Genuinely, Really

9) Offshore

Meaning: Made, situated, or registered abroad, especially in order to take advantage of lower taxes or costs or less stringent regulation.

Example: Offshore accounts.

10) Protégé

Meaning: A person who is guided and supported by an older and more experienced or influential person.

Example: Ruskin submitted his protégé’s name for election.

Synonyms: Pupil, Student

11) Notorious

Meaning: Famous or well known, typically for some bad quality or deed.

Example: Los Angeles is notorious for its smog.

Synonyms: Infamous, of ill repute

Antonyms: Unknown, Anonymous

12) Meddlesome

Meaning: Fond of meddling; interfering.

Example: Heaven rid him of meddlesome politicians.

Synonyms: Interfering, Meddling, Intrusive

13) Conducive

Meaning: Making a certain situation or outcome likely or possible.

Example: The harsh lights and cameras were hardly conducive to a relaxed atmosphere.

Synonyms: Good for, Helpful to

14) Dispensed

Meaning: Manage without or get rid of.

Example: Let’s dispense with the formalities, shall we?

Synonyms: Waive, Omit, Drop

Antonyms: Include, Keep

15) Sagacious

Meaning: Having or showing keen mental discernment and good judgement; wise or shrewd.

Example: They were sagacious enough to avoid any outright confrontation.

Synonyms: Wise, Clever, Intelligent

Antonyms: Stupid, Foolish

16) Prophet

Meaning: A person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God.

Example: The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah.

Synonyms: Seer, Soothsayer

17) Arrogated

Meaning: Take or claim (something) without justification.

Example: They arrogate to themselves the ability to divine the nation’s true interests.

Synonyms: Assume, Take, Take on

Antonyms: Renounce

18) Probity

Meaning: The quality of having strong moral principles; honesty and decency.

Example: Financial probity.

Synonyms: Integrity, Honesty

Antonyms: Untrustworthiness

19) Precedent

Meaning: An earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances.

Example: There are substantial precedents for using interactive media in training.

Synonyms: Model, Exemplar, Example

20) Amidst

Meaning: Surrounded by; in the middle of.

Example: Our dream home, set amid magnificent rolling countryside.

Synonyms: Among, Between

21) Orchestrated

Meaning: Plan or coordinate the elements of (a situation) to produce a desired effect, especially surreptitiously.

Example: The situation has been orchestrated by a tiny minority.

Synonyms: Organize, Arrange

22) Intrigue

Meaning: The secret planning of something illicit or detrimental.

Example: The cabinet was a nest of intrigue.

Synonyms: Plotting, Planning, Conspiracy

23) Avowed

Meaning: Assert or confess openly.

Example: He avowed that he had voted Labour in every election.

Synonyms: Assert, Declare

24) Flawed

Meaning: Having or characterized by a fundamental weakness or imperfection.

Example: A fatally flawed strategy.

Synonyms: Unsound, Defective

Antonyms: Sound

25) Swirled

Meaning: Move in a twisting or spiralling pattern.

Example: The smoke was swirling around him.

Synonyms: Whirl, Eddy