Another elected leader has gone. Disregard for sanctity of vote ails Pakistan. The history of Supreme Court’s anti- democracy collaboration is traced to its verdict calling Ayub Khan’s military coup a successful revolution. But this verdict of the Supreme Court’s came when the tradition of flouting the sanctity of the people’s vote already existed….writes Naveed S Ahmed
In a series of interviews of Pakistan’s leaders to commemorate the 70th year of this country’s birth, recently disqualified and unseated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told Urdu BBC that flouting of the sanctity of people’s votes was the root cause of his country’s problems. Worse, no lessons are learnt. This was the muffled tenor of his speeches he made during his four day march from Islamabad to Lahore early this month. During the march he criticised the Pakistan Supreme Court’s verdict of July 28 that disqualified him from holding the position of Prime Minister. He said, just five judges undid the vote of lakh of voters.
Since the disqualification of the Sharif his antagonists have been condemning him and his family and praising the boldness of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has called the apex court a hero. But the issue Sharif raised in his BBC interview is much beyond his person. It relates to the history of molested entities over throwing elected rulers in Pakistan. The Army has frequently done it as a matter of right or as an assigned duty under the so-called ideology of Pakistan. The Supreme Court verdict has also caused some suspicion in Pakistan as to who pulled the strings. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has a history of harming elected governments at the behest of the Army.
The history of Supreme Court’s anti- democracy collaboration is traced to its verdict calling Ayub Khan’s military coup a successful revolution. But this verdict of the Supreme Court’s came when the tradition of flouting the sanctity of the people’s vote already existed. There are some Pakistani writers who trace the origin of this tradition to then sickly Governor General Ghulam Mohammad’s act of dissolving the Constitute Assembly of Pakistan in 1953. Ghulam Mohammad feared the Assembly wanted to curtail his authority. The Assembly was made up of members elected in the 1946 elections before the Partition. Ghulam Mohammad was satisfied he was not the first to demolish the sanctity of vote.
Pakistani intelligentsia fight shy of debating the original sin against the sanctity of vote. Who committed this? Founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah was also a sick man. The Indian National Congress had the 1946 elections in the Muslim majority North-West Frontier Province – NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and formed the provincial government headed by Dr. Khan Saheb, a brother of Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. En masse Muslims’ votes to the Congress in a Muslim majority province tore apart Jinnah’s two-nation theory and his claim that his Muslim League was the only party in India representing Muslims. Among his first actions after the Partition was the dismissal of Dr. Khan Saheb’s government and installation of the defeated Muslim League in power headed by his confidante Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan (not to be confused with Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan of Occupied Kashmir). Justifying his action Jinnah said that the Congress Party had no place in Pakistan.
The flouting of voter’s sanctity by Jinnah in 1947 was his tragic flaw which blighted Pakistani politics. Governor Generals and Presidents, after him, considered it their prerogative to flout people’s mandate at will. As a result, between October 16, 1951, when the country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated, and October 7, 1958, when then President Iskander Mirza abrogated the 1956 Constitution and promulgated Martial Law under Gen Ayub Khan, six Prime Ministers had been installed and dismissed. Between May 1988 when Mohammad Khan Junejo was dismissed and now 11 Prime Ministers have been dismissed or overthrown without completing their tenure, violating voters’ basic human rights.
The higher judiciary of Pakistan also gave a villainous support to Prime Ministers’ dismissals or military coups. Two most devastating military coups against elected governments – by Gen. Ayub Khan in 1958 and Gen. Ziaul Haq in 1977- were okayed by the judiciary. Ayub Khan intentionally laid the foundation for the breakup of the country to get rid of Bengalis. But he installed Gen. Yahya Khan with a specific task, to disregard the breakup of the country. Gen Ziaul Haq turned Pakistan into an Islamists’ madhouse. Paranoia was considered patriotism. He received full support of the judiciary for his coup, for hanging deposed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and for amending the 1973 Constitution.
There is one very serious dimension to dismissals of governments and military coups in Pakistan. Did the dismissals happen to please some foreign powers? It will be worth investigating why a stickler for law, Jinnah dismissed the lawfully elected Dr. Khan Saheb’s government on the lame excuse that the Congress should not exist in Pakistan, an argument that militated against the spirit of his own August 11, 1947 address to the Constitute Assembly of Pakistan. Perhaps Jinnah wanted to signal his new born country’s choice to stand by the Western block against the emerging communist Soviet power. It is no secret that the British did not want the Congress and its supporters in NWFP close to Afghanistan. They were, therefore, against the Khan Brothers and then British Governor in the province allegedly played a big role in manipulating the victory of Pakistan in referendum. It is possible that Jinnah wanted to thank the British for this victory by removing the Congress government. He, however, did not anticipate the heavy price his country would pay later for this. But who bothers about the cost? Sharif deplored in his BBC interview that no lessons are learnt from past mistakes.
The sanctity of vote in Pakistan was the biggest victim of the Cold War period. Anti-communist American and Western democracies had no value for democracy in their most-allied ally Pakistan. They flouted the sanctity of people’s vote through the country’s Army and even through civilian President Ghulam Ishaq, who was said to close to the Army and also to the American CIA.
But today it is all different. The Pakistani Army is changing its master – from Americans to communist China. The latter does not allow people’s vote nor is it comfortable with it in client states like Pakistan. When Gen Raheel Sharif was Pakistan’s Army Chief there were reports that China wanted the Army to take over the administration of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan from civilians. This suggestion was greatly resented by Nawaz Sharif’s government.
After Gen Raheel Sharif had retired in 2016 articles began appearing in Pakistani newspapers questioning the utility of CPEC for Pakistan. This generated a public debate against Pakistan putting all its eggs in the basket of China. Questioning the utility of CPEC and the cost of Pakistan’s relations with China must be alarming for Beijing which describes CPEC as a pivotal part of its Belt and Road initiative (BRI). The position today is: (a) China is close to Pak military: (b) China is trying to be on the right side of Islamists in Pakistan, and democracy, of course, is an irritant for Beijing.
It is suspected in Pakistan that the Army was behind the Supreme Court’s July 28 verdict which disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif said only five judges undid the vote of lakhs of voters. But Nawaz Sharif as a person is not so important. What is important is the future or no future of democracy. Pakistan is getting into the clutches of China which does not allow democracy in its own system. Very soon, Pakistanis will find it too late to free themselves from these clutches. One has to wait and watch the real game behind Nawaz Sharif’s removal.