Reminiscing Zia’s vigilantism – by Zeeshan Khan


The ‘quiz show’ on Islam that is being played in the name of scrutiny is termed as inappropriate by independent observers

In less than three weeks of Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) departure from power, General Ziaul Haq’s ghost has started haunting Pakistanis and his shadow is looming over the frail edifice of democracy in Pakistan. The scrutiny process of the candidates seems to have taken everyone by utter surprise. With Jamshed Dasti, the twice popularly elected MNA of PPP, convicted, candidates like Maulana Ludhianvi, with terrorism charges, were given the green signal by the returning officers, who have apparently taken their title too literally.

The ‘quiz show’ on Islam that is being played in the name of scrutiny is termed as inappropriate by independent observers. The quiz rounds include questions relating to the number of kalimas, benefits of prayer, Islamic history, which later leads to awfully personal questions like, “How many wives do you have?” “Whom do you spend more time with and why have you still not fathered a child if you are married for two years?”

Shahid Sohail, the husband of a candidate, Sadia Sohail, was given a lecture on marital life by one of the returning officers. “When your wife will become a parliamentarian, your household will be a mess. No one will be there to attend to your children and they will eventually be spoiled,” he said. In Lahore, Provincial Election Commissioner Anwar Mehboob told candidate Tayyaba Sohail Cheema that she did not look her age. “You don’t seem to be 35, show your face to everyone around so that people can see that you seem much younger.”

Candidates were reported to have SMS exchanges with clerics before appearing in front of the returning officers. One of them went up to the extent of saying, “Sir, I have memorised all six kalmias; shall I?” As if the humiliation of the public representatives was not enough, there have been cameras installed in the rooms so that the returning officer can play to the gallery and media too can have its share of this moral circus.

This demeanour of the judiciary with politicians is a crude reminder of Zia’s vigilantism. It made people draw comparisons between the ASWJ leader Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Ayaz Amir. The returning officer’s ‘perception’ about Amir was that he had written articles that did not concur with the ideology of Pakistan whereas, a section of society ‘perceives’ Ludhianvi to be the inspiration behind the recent Shia genocide in Pakistan. Amir’s papers were rejected and Maulana Ludhianvi was deemed fit to contest the elections. This is nothing but sheer discernment based on one’s personal choice.

Democracy in Pakistan has always been treated like a bond servant to the powerful institutions. Politicians have been jailed, exiled, murdered, tortured, threatened, bribed and ridiculed by the army and the judiciary. Previously, it was the mullah-military alliance, now a parallel nexus of the establishment with judges and journalists is in action. The judicial fraternity, in collusion with certain sections of the media, is practically governing all affairs, with the Supreme Court on top calling all the shots.

After the Supreme Court, there is a pack of five ex-judges in the Election Commission of Pakistan who are there to decide the fate of our to-be parliamentarians. Politicians are virtually at their mercy. To cap it all, now we have former judges in the caretaker administration as well. Thanks to the opposition for facilitating the foundation of a parallel establishment in the country against politicians.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan was reported to have said, “Returning officers should continue the scrutiny of the candidates without succumbing to any pressure.” It was a signal to send the message across all corners that ‘the lords’ approve of it. Later after acceding to the immense criticism from certain quarters, the Lahore High Court took notice of the ‘unnecessary inquisition’ by the returning officers and termed it equivalent to insulting the courts.

Scrutiny of candidates is a very expedient apparatus. It is the main constituent of filtering the scum out of the system, and it is part of the evolution of a democratic model. By quizzing the candidates on a subject that is not correlated with the duties of a lawmaker, the courts are actually trivialising the sanctity of a constitutional course. If the disarray among state institutions is because of some ambiguity in the law, the prerogative of parliament entitles it to amend it to its will. Courts should not forget that in democracy, nothing but parliament is supreme.

The writer is a senior producer in a news channel and can be reached on twitter @zeekhan_

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