ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam chose the hard way to survive in politics but in return put to the test many others.
Caretakers, whether in Punjab or at the Centre, had their first test on Friday when Nawaz and Maryam returned to Pakistan to get arrested and jailed. While the father and daughter were sombre, smiling and relaxed with no sign of anxiety, the caretakers appeared unnerved and jittery.
Some big names like Justice (R) Nasirul Mulk, caretaker Prime Minister, and Prof Hassan Askari, caretaker Chief Minister Punjab, appeared just contrary to their repute. They acted simply opposite to what they have been propagating throughout their professional lives.
The administrative actions taken to deny peaceful rallies of one particular party, the arrests of political workers, the crackdowns, the road blockades all over Punjab, the sights of containers and oppressing media was just all opposite to the past sermons of the former chief justice and the professor on supremacy of fundamental rights, democracy and fairplay.
Some of their ministers were proved to be far more disappointing. There was not even a single voice from any of the caretakers to object to what was being done to target the particular political party, already under attack from multiple sides.
In the presence of so many “men of character” in the corridors of power the independent voice of mainstream media remained choked and thus there was almost a complete black-out of the PML-N show in Lahore.
According to a senior journalist, the media was not supposed to show the people in the rally. It was to be shown as a failure.
Again there were complaints from senior anchorpersons about the censor of their programmes and interviews (of Nawaz Sharif). The social media remained the only source of unfiltered information. Numerous independent voices criticised the caretakers, particularly the Punjab chief minister, who in many’s eyes compromised his reputation.
Pildat head Ahmed Bilal Mehboob was so disheartened by the conduct of the caretakers that he commented, “Sadly, I admit with a heavy heart that the system of caretaker governments has miserably failed. This system should be wrapped up as soon as possible.”
A group of intellectuals and academicians formally wrote a letter to Prof Askari to express their utter disappointment at what they called “appalling coercive actions” of the Punjab government against the workers and voters of the PML-N. They also expressed their concern over the intimidation, harassment and blackmail of the PML-N’s electoral candidates, and hoped that Askari will honour his pledge of holding fair and free elections. “If you are unable to do so, it would be appropriate for you to step down,” the letter said.
About the silence of caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk on these matters, a senior bureaucrat commented, “Honourable Nasirul Mulk is caretaker PM of the country. Under the Constitution he has taken an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution but it seems like he is a mere ‘caretaker of PM House’.”
While the caretakers have been at the receiving end for their failure to demonstrate their impartiality and fairness, not many even on the social media discussed the indifference of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Ironically, the last parliament did everything to make the Commission powerful to hold free and free elections by providing even-playing field to all political parties, but in its very first test of the 2018 elections, the Commission has struggled to act as an independent and robust election commission.
Most of the political parties have already expressed their doubts about the holding of fair and free elections. With every passing day, the doubts about the fairness of elections increased, but the Commission did too little to address the concerns of political parties, media and civil society.
Following media’s pressure, the ECP though tried to discipline the NAB from becoming party in the elections, the NAB Chairman Justice (R) Javed Iqbal continued with his seemingly politically motived statements. Now all the eyes are set on superior judiciary, which has to hear the appeals of Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar against their conviction. Those who know the law and are acquainted with the court’s working, find the Accountability Court judgment in Avenfield case flawed and faulty. Even otherwise, the staunch opponent of Nawaz Sharif, former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry rejected the AC’s judgment and said there was no evidence or legal ground to punish Nawaz and others.
There are allegation of pre-poll political engineering and interference. The military spokesman has denied it on his part. But the situation needs to be addressed. Legally and constitutionally from caretaker PM to chief election commissioner, other members of the Commission, chairman NAB and the incumbent chief justice of Pakistan, serving or retired judges are presently at the helm of affairs and are thus burdened with the responsibility of holding fair and free election without any hint of victimisation of any political leader or political party.