By Farahnaz Ispahani
As Pakistan approaches its next general elections, scheduled for 11 May, questions have arisen once again about the fairness of the electoral process. The problem stems from Pakistan’s long history of meddling in politics by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as “the establishment.” In addition to direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges and civil servants.
If Ayub Khan was the man who laid the foundations of Pakistan’s praetorian creed, General Zia-ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. Zia-ul-Haq drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways where reversing these changes has proved difficult even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the poisoned legacy of Zia-ul Haq endures, enabling the establishment to use Islam as the instrument of control and influence over the body politic.
Soon after the elections were called, Pakistan’s human rights and democracy icon Asma Jahangir tweeted: “Please read Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution before closing your minds. Witch-hunting will start selectively.” These articles were inserted by Zia-ul-Haq and are still retained in the Constitution because conservative and Islamic parties refused to amend it over the preceding five years.
Article 62 lays down that a candidate for parliament must demonstrate that “(d) he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions; (e) he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices, obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; (f) he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; (g) he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.”
Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if: (g) he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan”.
The Election Commission of Pakistan is now using these articles to pre-select candidates. Returning Officers are asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day and, in case of a woman candidate, even respond to the question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to fulfil your religious duties as a wife and mother?”
Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Ironically, militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religious sagacity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers of Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.
A few of us saw this coming some years ago. The establishment started with my husband, former Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, who has battled the establishment and its ideology, especially through his book ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military.’ He was dubbed a ‘traitor’, stopped from leaving the country by the Supreme Court even though he faced no legal charges and tarred through the establishment-controlled media. The Supreme Court was criticised by the International Commission of Jurists for acting outside the law to impose its view of patriotism in Husain Haqqani’s case.
Soon after that, I was handpicked and disqualified by the Pakistani Supreme Court on grounds of having dual nationality even though Pakistani law allows citizens to retain dual citizenship with several countries. The Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the law allows judges, generals and bureaucrats to hold two citizenships but not elected members of parliament. Subsequently, the Supreme Court even refused to share information with parliament about judges who are dual nationals.
The unstated argument seems to be that unelected institutions are superior and can be trusted more than mere mortals elected by ordinary people. From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate.
This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.
The establishment may have allowed parliament to complete its term and refrained from another direct coup but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote whomever they choose.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament
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Updated Date: Apr 06, 2013 13:05:02 IST