This Legislative Atrocity

With an uninterrupted tradition of political aridity and praetorian culture in our country, there is certainly something fundamentally wrong not only with our patterns and standards of governance but also with our national character. The rulers alone are not to blame. The people who tolerate these rulers bear the responsibility for the current scale of corruption, lawlessness, bigotry, societal chaos and violence. We are today a nation of double standards, dual nationalities, dual loyalties and dual-office-holders.
“Double Shah” is a character that somehow best epitomises Pakistan’s personality. Not many of us would remember the famous case of a dual nationality-holder and swindler of Gujrat familiarly known as “Double Shah” which a few years ago dominated the national headlines for plundering thousands of people in a big scam. He was arrested as he was preparing to escape with billions of rupees that he had collected from his clients on the assurance of doubling the amount within a couple of weeks. What happened to the case? Nobody knows. Obviously there were highly influential people protecting him.
We have a history of scams of all sorts and scale, ranging from the cooperatives scandal of the nineties to Islamabad’s “Auntie Shamim” scandal of the new millennium. And almost every field of our national life and all segments of our society have been replete with corruption cases of scandalous proportions. In recent years, we have been witnessing a flurry of governmental corruption and mismanagement scandals, involving in most cases high-profile public officials and their family members.
There have also been scandals of an unprecedented nature with direct impact on the country’s security and survival. The foremost is the notorious Memogate in which the highly-placed authors of the alleged memo solicited a foreign power’s behind-the-scenes intervention to put the Pakistani army on the spot. In fact, those who had no competence and credibility of their own – and as per their own admission in the memo, were devoid of any strategic vision or calibre to be able to assert any civilian control over the military – took the treasonous path by seeking foreign involvement in Pakistan’s internal affairs.
A judicial probe has already determined the authenticity of the memo which now awaits judicial proceedings to determine the responsibility for what could perhaps qualify to be the most sophisticated version of a Byzantine intrigue in which the state itself was seen to be conspiring against its own sovereignty.
Lately, we saw another wily conspiracy in the notorious Malik Riaz scandal against the judiciary and the media, the two pillars of state that people anxiously looked up to at as the last hope to save the country from the looters and plunderers in privileged positions and elected houses. The insidious attempt may not have succeeded in its ultimate objective but certainly has shaken the public’s faith in the credibility of the last two saviours of the country’s future. What is alarming is that the veiled conspiracy to incapacitate the Supreme Court through intrigue and money is not over yet.
But these are not the only conspiracies of their kind in our benighted land. We have seen umpteen of them before. Thanks to Wikileaks, in recent years, conspiracies of all sorts against the state and its people by our self-serving corrupt rulers with foreign collusion are no longer secret. The most notorious was the NRO deal brokered by the US at the request of a military dictator for a manipulated power-sharing arrangement that would have allowed him to continue in power in a regime with a pleasant civilian face in the iconic person of Benazir Bhutto as his prime minister. The Supreme Court’s verdict on the NRO’s illegality still remains unimplemented, even though a prime minister has lost his job for non-compliance with the apex court’s verdict.
The government, it seems, has learned no lessons and is instead planning to strike back at the Supreme Court through its brutal legislative authority. The present parliament, which has done nothing to alleviate the sufferings of the people, adopted three constitutional amendments in quick succession within a span of months only to protect the power and privilege of the ruling class. Two new constitutional amendments are now on the anvil, one to curtail the Supreme Court’s powers to interpret constitutional issues and the other to legitimise the “right” of dual nationals to get elected and hold public office now prohibited under Article 63 (1) ( c ) of the Constitution. Both, if carried out, will amount to a legislative atrocity that must be stopped.
Indeed, ours is a dismal record of constitutional and political delinquency and unrelenting self-serving omissions and commissions with total insensitivity to the basic democratic norms and moral standards. Besides the ingeniously camouflaged amendments in the Constitution, the government is also contemplating changes in the existing contempt of court law to provide immunity to the president, the prime minister, chief ministers and ministers from contempt proceedings.
In other words, the scope of privilege as a prerogative is being expanded by changing the law for the benefit of the few. This is not democracy. This is the worst form of kleptocracy in which the government exists only to increase the personal wealth and political power of the rulers.
Interestingly, our “Double Shah” culture extends to overseas people of Pakistan origin with dual nationalities as potential candidates for double utility high-profile positions in Pakistan. Fixated as we are in our colonial mentality, we enviously look at anyone who goes overseas as an “asset” for the country. We consider holders of foreign passport as the only panacea for the country’s ills. But they are not. We have had a couple of them as ministers and prime ministers. With no constituency of their own, they were always at the beck and call of a military or civil dictator.
Legally and morally too, it is not fair for Pakistani dual-nationality-holders to claim seats in our parliament or share in public offices in a bid to build their own careers in a country which they voluntarily left long ago. No one questions their patriotism. But their oath to foreign allegiance does create conflict of interest with divided loyalties. Yes, they are an asset as they should be for their native land. They send billions of dollars in home remittances. But that is why they left the country of their origin. In fact, they should send more.
If our dual nationals genuinely have the urge and desire to serve Pakistan, they should use their calibre and skills to excel in local politics rather than returning to their country and getting lost in the dirty game of power and privilege. By making place for them in elected assemblies and senates and holding influential public offices in countries of their residence, they surely can look after the legitimate interests of their own homeland more appropriately without any conflict of interest or allegiance.
India normally doesn’t allow dual citizenship but persons of Indian origin settled abroad, even without their being allowed the Indian passport or the right to vote or hold constitutional posts, are an asset to their country.
Not only in terms of remittances, trade expansion and acquisition of knowledge and technology, but also in the form of high-profile public positions they hold in the countries of their residence.