Major judicial verdicts in Pakistan have not upheld democratic values. Ayub Khan’s coup, which was the first military takeover, had been described as a “revolution” by the judiciary. General Zia-ul-Haq’s takeover was legitimised through the “doctrine of necessity”. Bhutto’s death sentence by the Pakistan Supreme Court, through a 4-3 verdict after two judges had been removed from the original nine-member bench, was considered by many as a judicial murder. When Zia dismissed his protégé Muhammad Khan Junejo, whom he had appointed as prime minister, the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal as unconstitutional only after Zia’s death. But even then it chose not to restore the Junejo government on the intervention of the army chief, as later became apparent through the revelation by General Aslam Beg himself in 1993.
General Musharraf’s takeover was justified once again in terms of the doctrine of state necessity. The court decided to ignore the core issue of Article 6 which prohibited coups. In 2012, Yousuf Raza Gillani was dismissed as prime minister on account of a Supreme Court order before he could complete his five-year tenure. In the last seven decades, the office of the prime minister of Pakistan remained abolished for over 30 years during military rule. The general stance of the Pakistan judiciary throughout has been lenient towards the army and tough against civilian governments.
There have also been occasions when the judiciary supported democratic measures. Justice Nasim Hasan Shah restored Nawaz Sharif to office in May1993 after the latter had been dismissed a month earlier. It may be mentioned that the judge in this case had been a member of the bench which delivered the majority judgement in the Bhutto case. Through this act the judge tried to redeem his image. The judgment of the Pakistan Supreme Court on July 28 in Nawaz Sharif’s case is history repeating itself. It, however, leaves some questions unanswered.
The court has referred the main charge of corruption against Nawaz Sharif to the National Accountability Bureau. Thus, a sitting prime minister has been disqualified even before the charges could be proved. Further, the judgement is not specific about the period of disqualification. Nawaz Sharif has been found guilty of violating Article 62 of Pakistan’s Constitution that requires him to be truthful (sadiq) and Article 63 which expects him to be righteous (ameen). It is easy to apply these principles against anyone without being specific.
A charge against Nawaz Sharif is that he did not declare to the Election Commission his salary as chairman of a Dubai-based company which in actuality he did not either accept or receive. Perhaps the court is right in declaring that unreceived salary is an asset, albeit a notional one, but it is difficult to accept that this is a crime for which an elected prime minister should face disqualification. The supreme court bench does not also appear to have been composed in a righteous (ameen) manner. The two judges who had previously opined against Nawaz Sharif were included in the bench. The inclusion of the representative of military intelligence in the JIT, appointed by the court, had also raised some questions. Nawaz Sharif may be guilty but the manner in which he has been disqualified could make him look like a martyr.
Nawaz Sharif has been prime minister of Pakistan on three occasions. He was unable to complete his term in any of them. Taking his tenures collectively, he has been the longest serving prime minister of Pakistan. As PM he visited India twice — to attend Rajiv Gandhi’s funeral and Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. In the past, he has made private visits as well. Altogether, he has had nearly 20 meetings with six prime ministers of India in Delhi, Lahore and other world capitals. He met Chandra Shekhar in Male 19 days after taking over for the first time as prime minister and later in New Delhi when he came to attend Rajiv Gandhi’s funeral. He met Narasimha Rao on six occasions — Harare (October 1991), Colombo (SAARC Meeting December 1991), Davos (February 1992), Rio (Earth Summit, June 1992), Jakarta (10th NAM Meeting, September 1992), Dhaka (November 1993, SAARC Summit). He met I.K. Gujral thrice — in New York, Dhaka and Male.
They were also in touch on the telephone. The composite dialogue started at that time. Sharif hosted Vajpayee when he went by bus to Lahore. During his third tenure he met Manmohan Singh in New York and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, Lahore, Ufa, Asthana and Paris. This enviable record sets him apart from other prime ministers of India and Pakistan as none have had as many meetings with their counterparts. He could not achieve much success. For instance, both the Lahore meetings did not produce the desired result. Lahore was followed by Kargil and Lahore II by the attack on Pathankot.
There has been no forward movement in India-Pakistan relations in the recent past. Hence, Nawaz Sharif’s removal is not likely to affect the bilateral relationship. The control of the Pakistan army on its country’s relations with India and Afghanistan can be expected to further increase.
The writer is former special envoy of the Prime Minister of India and currently chairman Aspen-Ananta Centre. Views expressed are personal
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