Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, arguably the most popular leader in Pakistan, was jailed in 1977 by General Zia-ul-Haq, who after overthrowing the recently elected government of Bhutto imposed martial law in Pakistan. Bhutto was hanged in 1979 in what later came to be known as a judicial assassination. Bhutto neither asked for mercy nor a deal. In his hanging Bhutto, the proud leader idolised by millions, became a martyr. And what started in Pakistan was a phenomenon that in one or the other form did not let civilian supremacy become a reality, and the undeniable tug of war for power of the military and civilian dispensations became the modus operandi for all who ruled Pakistan.
What also became a reality later was that those who come to power in Pakistan have a strange, petulant way of never really giving up the idea of that power. All of them refuse to uphold the sanctity of that fundamental tenet of democracy: all elected leaders are accountable for their work while in power. All who rule Pakistan are accountable. Be it the three-time elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif who didn’t complete even one term of his premiership, or General Pervez Musharraf who in 1999 staged a coup, overthrew Sharif, became the president and ruled Pakistan for eight years before his ignominious departure from power in 2007, what is similar is their attitude vis-à-vis accountability.
What is noticeable is that today Nawaz Sharif is serving a seven-year sentence in the Al-Aziza Mills corruption reference case, and the retired general Pervez Musharraf lives outside Pakistan citing medical reasons and old age for his inability to appear before a court in Pakistan. The charges against him are grave but there is apparently no action against him beyond verbal statements. The case against Musharraf under Article 6 of the Constitution and Section 2 of the High Treason Act is for “Benazir Bhutto assassination case, judges’ detention case and Nawab Akbar Bugti case.”
On May 7, 2019, Sharif after the end of his six-week bail was sent back to jail in Lahore; the bail was for Sharif to have medical treatment, his bad health being the reason for which his family and party have been trying to pressurise the government to release him and allow him to travel abroad. There was a six-week respite but no departure for the UK. Lahore beyond jammed roads around Sharif’s Jati Umra residence, reportedly, didn’t rally for Sharif despite the proclamations to the contrary of his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, and leaders of his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The return to jail of a political leader convicted by a court after end of his bail is given the look of a messiah suffering for his people doing a proud march to his unfair imprisonment by a government that is out to ‘get’ him.
Proclamations are many. That the people would do anything for their beloved leader. That despite serving a legal sentence Sharif is a victim of a political witch-hunt. That despite being disqualified by the court of law to hold any public office for 10 years after finishing his sentence, Sharif is the leader who deserves to rule Pakistan.
It happens in a loop. It is happening now: refusal of the most powerful to be answerable for their misdeeds while in power. NROs are signed to escape punishment. Self-exiles take place. Government-enforced exiles take place. Pressure is exerted through public protests. Narratives are constructed through relentless use of electronic, print and social media. Journalists who profess allegiance to sanctity of freedom of expression and speaking the truth, and self-proclaimed human rights activists become spokespersons for political leaders who wish to be seen as heroes of democracy.
- In Pakistan, patriotism has become an epithet
- Sahiwal: Pakistan owes its children justice, may their tears never be watched on video
- The horror of child servants in Pakistan: Uzma was battered to death for taking one bite of food
- This Pakistan of Abdus Salam, Asia bibi and Suman Kumari is my beautiful Pakistan
Legalities of cases are given the colour of a governmental witch-hunt. Political giants who take the idea of their power for life with an arrogance that is cold and unending cry hoarse when held accountable. Meticulously established theories of victimhood and persecution in the hands of a ‘draconian’ judiciary and military establishment are pushed forward to completely erase the truth of actions that deserve questioning, a legal process and, at times, even punishment.
The entire crux of the making of a cacophony of ‘injustice’ is initiated with one chant: how could this happen to us? Why has our power been taken? Mujhe kyon nikala becomes the mantra. It may have been Sharif’s words, but it is the narrative of all who are held answerable: why me? Names and faces change, the overarching sense of entitlement remains the same: the late Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Hamza Shehbaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf...
Now the Sharif senior is back in jail. His daughter, Maryam, his political crusader, has recently been appointed as the vice president of his party, PML-N. His sons, Hassan and Hussain, live in the UK. His brother Shehbaz Sharif is also in the UK, along with his family except his son Hamza, who is also a new vice president of the PML-N. Sharif junior insists despite the noise in media that he would be back soon.
Nothing changes in Pakistan. Until now. The premise of the political movement of Imran Khan the cricketer and philanthropist in 1996 was to initiate a mechanism of justice and accountability in Pakistan. His fight continued for 22 years. Now after serving as the prime minister of Pakistan for nine months, Khan seems to be unmovable about his stance vis-à-vis justice and accountability. There will be no deal, there will be no NRO, there will be no exile, and the looted money of the national exchequer will be taken back. Those who ruled Pakistan will be held answerable for their actions in Pakistan. How Khan the prime minister handles the issue of accountability will be the test of the truth of his political slogans of two decades. Pakistan first or political expediencies, time will tell.
As I wrote last Sunday: “Will Prime Minister Imran Khan be true to his word and hold the alleged and the proven corrupt accountable? Will there be a reckoning of deeds of all, be they the members of his family, leaders of his party, retired military generals-turned-presidents, or former prime ministers and chief ministers? Will justice be the same for the poor and the powerful, the ruled and the ruler? Will the law be bent as per political expediencies and silent manoeuvring for future self-preservation? Will all those who ruled Pakistan, be they military dictators or elected prime ministers, be held morally accountable in the court of 120 million Pakistanis, and legally accountable in the highest courts of Pakistan?”
We, the Pakistanis who voted for the system to change, merely watch and wait.
Only time will tell.