In a bid to promote “democratic culture” in this country, the Senate passed a resolution the other day. Introduced by a PPP legislator, it calls for making “democratic civic education” a compulsory part of curriculums in educational institutions so as to create awareness among the youth about fundamental rights, parliamentary democracy, and state institutions. For all others, the resolution places the responsibility on public service broadcasters (there is only one, the PTV, which relies mainly for its sustenance on tax collected on utility bills but functions as a government propaganda tool) and independent private media “to devote a fair amount of time to expand their [the people’s] understanding of the Constitution and its relevance as a vibrant contract between citizens and the State.”
That can only create confusion in the public mind considering the clashing views of some key players and the Constitution. Those who understand the Constitution point out that there are three organs of the state, namely the executive, parliament and judiciary. And that none of them is supreme, only the Constitution is. Which says all citizens- high and low, elected or unelected- are equal before law. And further that court decisions can be criticized but the judges cannot be ridiculed. But according to the lights of former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif disqualified by the Supreme Court for non-disclosure of an asset in the UAE, the prime minister is above law. He has been ranting against the apex court at public rallies, telling his supporters “those who receive millions of votes are sent home by five persons”, as if they were some street bullies rather than the judges of the nation’s highest judicial forum. In other words, he is saying the votes hand a leader not just the mandate to govern in the public interest, but also to violate any law that comes in the way of his/her personal interests. While campaigning for her mother’s candidacy for the seat vacated by him, Mian Sahib’s daughter and heir apparent, Maryam Nawaz, has also been mocking the court using the same argument. Crossing all limits at one of her rallies, she termed her father’s disqualification “a joke” adding ” I don’t know if the [judges arrived at the]decision because of some grudge or under some pressure, holding our three generations accountable and internal family affairs were discussed during [Panama corruption case] court proceedings.”
And we, the people, don’t know why she and her father are not being held to account for showing such naked contempt for the court. Her story contains many known unknowns. She has been claiming she didn’t know why people were saying she was the owner of pricy flats – at the centre of Panamagate- in London whilst she had no property even in Pakistan. That was her position until the Panama Papers confirmed she actually owned those flats. And even after long hours of questioning by a joint investigation team, she, her father and two brothers told journalists they didn’t know what the team wanted to know. Before that the family made conflicting statements as to where the money came from for buying the London properties and when they bought them. And of course we know but they don’t why the SECP altered the record of one of their sugar mills.
The one thing the Sharifs knew was that all the accountability institutions were firmly under their control, and hence could do them no harm. When summoned by the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, all five of them – the NAB, FBR, SECP, State Bank, and FIA- had thrown up their hands. The family’s past experience with the courts also told them they could not be touched. Now that it has been touched, it doesn’t want to know the law. All this while we, the people, have been wanting to know if we live in a democracy why did our prime minister not bow before public opinion, like his counterparts in two other countries involved in the same Panama Papers scandal. Also, why he himself failed to satisfy his critics, as did the former British prime minister David Cameron, instead of unleashing an attack brigade against the apex court, and indirectly the Army. Indeed, no one has forgotten the Army’s past villainies, but it is not known what it has to do with the Panama Papers revelations. What we think we know is that it is a pure and simple case of huge sums of money acquired and laundered through means the former first family refuses to divulge.
We also know the answers to some of Maryam’s impolite questions, such as that why was her father disqualified on the basis of non-disclosure of his UAE Iqama (residency permit Mian Sahib had acquired in the UAE to head a company, Capital FZE, registered in his son’s name). Under the election laws, non-declaration of assets by members of assemblies invites disqualification, of which there are several instances. This though was not a simple case of carelessness in reporting an asset. For the Iqama allowed stashing away money in Swiss and other foreign banks with the assurance that it could never be found out even if at some point a future government in Pakistan requested such information from a foreign bank. She has also been demanding to know why ask “why Nawaz Sharif gave gifts to Maryam? I ask people asking such questions … who insult our family and violate our basic rights, don’t you give your daughters presents?” There surely is nothing questionable about parents showering their children with expensive gift as long as they can explain the value of such gifts is commensurate with their declared means of income. Those who cannot do so are liable to punishment -insult, in her words. Her father has failed to give a satisfactory explanation. As for the rights, the Constitution says all are equal before law. But Mian Sahib and his heir apparent tell us prime minister is above law. So who to trust, them or the Constitution? That is the question the Senate resolution doesn’t address. We need to know the answer.