Mr Gilani was punished till the rising of the court, for violating Article 63 (1)(g) of the Constitution that states:
“A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Parliament, if he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ...integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary..., unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.”
The question now is whether he will be disqualified from holding office. This will unquestionably give a new dimension to the political instability in the country.
Leaders and functionaries of the Pakistan People’s Party are trying to give an impression that the PPP has “once again” been victimised by the establishment, led by the Supreme Court. The allusion is to the conviction and hanging of former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 on a murder charge. He was convicted unanimously by the Lahore High Court and appeal and a review was rejected by a majority in the Supreme Court. The fact that the dissenting judges were non-Punjabi was interpreted by many in Bhutto’s home province as proof that the establishment was out to get a Sindhi leader.
Benazir Bhutto took the same line when her governments were dismissed on corruption charges in 1990 and 1996, and when she faced several cases involving corruption while she was in the opposition. Her husband, who is now president of Pakistan, was party in most of these cases. One of the major cases involved acceptance of commission from a Swiss contractor and then depositing it in a Swiss bank account. Benazir Bhutto initially denied she held this account but later acknowledged the fact when it was proved that she had used the proceeds of the account to purchase jewellery.
The Supreme Court wants the 60 million dollars in this account returned to the country. However, Zardari’s supporters do not see anything wrong with the National Reconciliation Ordinance and continue to present the corruption cases against their leaders as politically motivated and biased. PPP leaders appearing on TV have even started questioning media people about their own assets and honesty. Two wrongs do not make a right. Some members of the media may be corrupt, but how can politicians justify their own corruption on this basis?
The Gilani government, instead of writing to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of the corruption case and for returning the proceeds of the account, has been dilly-dallying since the NRO judgment. The only legal justification it constantly could comes up with was President Zardari’s enjoying constitutional immunity. Chief Justice Iftikhar Ali Chaudhry has commented a number of times that the court is not interested in convicting the president but only seeks the return of the money.
One need not be a sage to figure out as to what exactly the government is trying to do: it is simply defending the corruption proceeds. The government chose not to defend the NRO when its constitutionality was being challenged before the Supreme Court. However, the same government then filed a review petition against the Supreme Court judgment, asking it to overturn the judgment when court ordered it to write to the Swiss authorities.
The issue is not the technical part but the corruption proceeds. Political parties in Pakistan, with very few exceptions, have no ideology left and the support their leaders receive is driven more by personalities than principles. However, the actions of an honest supporter of a party defending the corruption of his leader cannot be condoned; if the leader is corrupt then his corruption should be condemned, rather than its being justified on the ground that leaders of other parties or some media barons are equally corrupt.
No one in Pakistan is questioning as to where the money has come from. The politicians do not work but they have millions of dollars in their bank accounts. And if any of these politicians ever get caught for whatever reason, then it is presented as sheer political victimisation if the accused are out of power. Again, the source of money is never questioned.
The responsibility then rests on the media to highlight this dichotomy as the public relies on its analysis for formation of opinions.
In the case of Swiss bank account the Supreme Court is acting in accordance with to a principle. One cannot challenge it legally as it is on sound footing as the insistence is on a higher moral ground. What Pakistan’s rulers have decided to do is to rely on the only option left to them: politicise it. The strategy is to raise so much dust and create so much confusion that the issue of corruption goes into the background. It is sad to see this happening, but I guess this is what we all regard as politics and democracy in this part of the world.