That the country is going to witness confrontation between institutions is now a strong possibility. This perception has received a strong boost following the election of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif as president of the PML-N. Less than 24 hours prior to his election at Islamabad’s Convention Centre which was crowded by PML-N leaders from across the country, the government successfully managed to ensure the passage of the highly controversial Elections Reforms bill in the National Assembly, on the basis of the party’s sheer numerical strength. The passage of this bill in the Senate, where the PML-N badly lacks a majority, was no mystery, however. The Pakistan People’s Party dominates the Senate, and all major parties, without exception, sided with a beleaguered Nawaz Sharif to help him be rehabilitated, so that they could forestall similar challenges to their own leaderships in coming weeks and months. So what happened in the National Assembly on that day was a crude performance emanating from a consensus, a script authored by the custodians of parliamentary rule in “the greater interest,” so to speak, of both democracy and democratic values. Needless to mention, the PML-N’s handpicked, ever obliging President of Pakistan signed the bill into law in a matter of hours.
The Constitution now allows any citizen of Pakistan to become an office-bearer of a political party regardless of his or her disqualification by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The subsequent passage of the bill and Nawaz Sharif’s election as party chief are a profound affront to the esteem and honour of the Supreme Court which, through its July 28 verdict in the Panama Papers case, had disqualified him as Prime Minister and asked the National Accountability Bureau to file references against him and others in an accountability court.
It is clear that things in the country are not going in the right direction. It is also clear that a large majority of Pakistanis are extremely worried about the direction in which the country is heading, and most are pessimistic about their future. Not only are everyday events deepening Pakistanis’ concerns about the situation, they are also eroding their confidence in the political system. Nawaz Sharif seems to have decided to exact revenge for what to him are flimsy, trivial grounds for his ouster. He is therefore losing no opportunity to step up his criticism of higher judiciary and the armed forces. To attack the judiciary in his speech at the Convention Centre, he recalled the Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan case in which Chief Judge Justice Mohammad Munir had sought shelter behind the “law of necessity” in order to justify his decision in favour of Governor General Ghulam Mohammad, who in 1954 dissolved Pakistan’s constituent assembly. The country is yet to recover from that political shock. He mentioned the greatest tragedy in the history of Pakistan, the Fall of Dacca in December 1971, with the intention of putting the armed forces in an awkward, defensive position; and this despite the fact that army chief General Bajwa had already made it clear that the armed forces had no role in his removal from the Prime Minister’s House. The criticism of Pakistan’s institutions by the newly reinstalled PML-N leader is hardly different from the rhetoric of the disgraced leader and founder of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Altaf Husain, who had gone too far too many times before he was ultimately banished from politics in Pakistan in August last year.
The current situation is fraught with grave threats to the country’s economy and its sovereignty. This underscores the need for sanity all round and at all costs, without any further loss of time. All the institutions, particularly the parliament, are urgently required to take every possible step to insulate Pakistan against this crisis, before irreparable harm comes to the nation. The situation brooks no complacency. This nation has already suffered too much and for too long at the hands of the selfish business elite, the repressive feudal lords, the obscurantist clergy, ambitious military dictators, the pliant and subservient judiciary of the past, self-serving bureaucrats and immature practitioners of politics.