A stunning rebuke to corruption

In a historical context, we have yet to conceptually realise the philosophical foundations of the 2008-2009 public affirmation of the countrys judiciary. I do not recall a single modern historical precedent wherein the elected government of the day was almost swept from its incumbency by popular revolt that resulted in re-establishing the countrys superior judiciary headed by the present Supreme Court and its chief justice. In a country where praetorian, feudal and colonial norms determine social thinking and public behaviour, democracy remains susceptible to anti-democratic challenges. Playing the role of a knight in the service of democracy in Pakistan is neither easy nor follows any set practice since polemical rhetoric or the borrowed and fake robes of a martyr are always seen through by the masses who are being made the target of such an adornment. The people have become as suspicious of the calls of democracy being in danger as they are wary of slogans such as 'Islam in danger or 'stability at any cost or 'Pakistan first. The weaknesses in the case of those gunning for the independence of judiciary are clearly visible but its defenders need to see that the task in front of the Supreme Courts handling of national causes is both delicate and difficult. The apex courts ruling against corruption in the NRO matter is the clearest affirmation of the wishes of the people and the demands of the Republican nature of our constitution. Those given the tasks of defending this dangerous addiction of the people in power, only have the spurious argument to put forth that it is an elected government and so we must leave it alone. How irrelevant can they be? Do not they know that even in admittedly working democracies, the law must prevail and even elected governments must yield to change in office when found to be corrupt? Election is not a cure for the malady of corruption. Recent political events may be cited for this proposition; the present Japanese PM lost popularity within a couple of months of winning a general election and the US president has not even completed a year in office and his approval ratings are down to less than 50 percent and the media is criticising him for many faults of commissions and omission of his administration. Ending corruption is a noble and popular cause that in the past has been used in Pakistan to undermine democracy by usurpers and not really to strengthen the basic norms pertaining to representative institutions. In October 1999 Musharraf came to root out corruption; he left eight years later leaving behind a corruption mess which would take all our national energies for cleansing our public life of this terrible disease If Pakistani democracy is to survive, our judiciary must uphold legal action against the allegedly corrupt and the media must criticise the elected leaders as this does not undermine the democratic system or is tantamount to overturning the mandate given by the people in a general election. I must submit that our main political parties are not apparently cognisant of their basic political duties to the nation in respect of such national tragedies. There seems to be a conspicuous lack of unanimity over the issue of corruption as well. I keep on hearing that despite corruption allegations against the PPP leaders, PML-N is not really averse to the continuity of the present political set up. I have also seen from Nawaz Sharifs statements that he would not like the holding of mid-term polls. Why? Does he not know that it is a constitutional duty of the opposition under the prevalent parliamentary system to provide to the people an alternative government in waiting? Recently, the opposition of the Punjab Government to even allow the four by-elections in Punjab to take place is thus a most retrogressive move. Indeed it needed the Supreme Courts timely intervention to put electoral democracy back on track. Other opposition elements like the Jamaat-i-Islami have also lost direction and indeed spunk since Qazi Sahib left. I know this since I know what it took for them to take part in the court proceedings involving the infamous NRO. This leaves essentially Imran Khan. He is saying the right things and is sincere in his avocations for the achievement of the right causes. His difficulty seems that he does not know what to say, when and what to move against. It is in this background that the Supreme Courts Order against the NRO has to be evaluated. In my view, it is a stunning rebuke to the corrupt and the dishonest. The court declared NRO ultra vires on grounds that it was discriminatory and restored all the pending proceedings in various courts. Strangely, it is a fact that the PPP federal government and ministers and its coalition partners in Sindh literally had all the benefits that the NRO had to offer. Elected governments and ministers make mistakes. Scandals emerge about them even in the most advanced countries. Those elected lose the cheering of the people and become the object of jeers. But then the law must take its course. In India, too there have been scandals involving governments in office. They have been tried by courts and no one ever said that such trials would derail democracy. Indian PM Narasimha Rao (1991-1996) faced a huge corruption scandal after leaving office. It was alleged that in July 1993 when his government was facing a no confidence motion Rao, through a representative, offered money to Members of Parliament belonging to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). In 1996, a special court convicted Rao but he appealed to a higher court and remained on bail. In another case Rao along with other fellow ministers was accused of forging documents to show that former Prime Minister VP Singhs son, Ajeya Singh, had a bank account in St Kitts. Former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi faced a huge corruption scandal. Rajiv and several of his close associates and friends were accused of receiving kickbacks from a Swedish company, Bofors, for winning a bid to supply Indias military with 155mm field howitzer guns. The scale of the kickbacks was alleged to be of the tune of Indian Rs 64 million. Rajiv and the Congress Party lost the elections in 1989 to a combined opposition, which used Bofors as a slogan against the Congress administration. Likewise in May 2009, the Speaker of the British Parliament resigned over his role in a scandal about the exaggerated expense claims of Members of Parliament. Michael Martin is the first speaker to step down under pressure since a previous incumbent was forced out for taking bribes in 1695. But throughout the MPs expense claim scandal no one ever said that their trial would derail democracy. Let us therefore play our heartfelt tributes to the judiciary for its clear stand against the corrupt and move on to establish democracy in this country. The writer is an attorney at law (US), and a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The writer is barrister at law (US and UK), senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and professor at Harvard University.

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