Reminiscing Zia’s vigilantism


Candidate scrutiny has become ‘sinister quiz show’ on Islam

In less than three weeks of PPP’s departure from power, Zia’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 PPP MNA, convicted; candidates like Maulana Ludhyanvi, facingterrorism charges, were given green signals by the Returning Officers (ROs), who have apparently taken their title too literally.

The “quiz show” on Islam that was played in the name of scrutiny was termed as “sinister” by the independent observers like HRCP. The quiz rounds included questions relating to “the number of Kalmas, 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 didn’t 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 memorized all six kalmas…shall I?” As if the humiliation of the public representatives was not enough, there were cameras installed in the rooms, so that the returning officer could play to the gallery and media too, could have its share of this moral circus.

This unruly demeanor against politicians is a crude reminder of Zia’s vigilantism. It made people draw comparisons between ASWJ leader Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhiyanvi and PML-N leader Ayaz Amir. The ROs ‘perception’ about Ayaz Amir was that he had written articles, which did not concur with the ideology of Pakistan while Maulana Ludhiyanvi, whom a section of society ‘perceives’ to be the inspiration behind recent Shia Genocide in Pakistan, as deemed fit to contest the elections. What is going on is nothing but a process of discernment based on one’s personal choice.

The key clauses of Zia’s Article 62/63, the candidates are being trounced with, are:

e) He has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins;

(f) He is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law;

(g) He has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.

Fingers are also being pointed at Senator Raza Rabbani who was heading the committee on 18th amendment for why he failed t0 foresee the havoc 62/63 could create near the elections and the malice that it shrouds within. I think that the committee members were f the opinion that amending Article 62/63 at that point could stir severe criticism from the right wing forces, fueled by the media, jeopardizing the whole proceedings of the committee by making it controversial.

Five weeks down the line elections are all set to roll. However, there are many a slips between the cup and the lips because some quarters are already labeling the whole scrutiny proceedings as part of a conspiracy. According to them, the entire spectacle is a ‘planned move’ by the establishment to damage the image of politicians and disqualify candidates it does not like, paving way for the technocrats who would acquiesce to their role in state affairs.

This demonstration of judicial hegemony over politicians was to an extent, anticipated, as democracy in Pakistan has always been treated like a bondservant 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 establishment between judges and journalists, is in action. The judge fraternity, in collusion with media, is practically, governing all affairs, with 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 (ECP), 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. All thanks to the opposition whom facilitated the founding of a parallel establishment in the country.

The very day Ayaz Amir was disqualified, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, while addressing the gathering of ROs and DROs, said, “I am of firm opinion that you will rise to the occasion without being succumbing to any pressure”. He concluded his speech by saying, “I am indeed proud of all of you.” It was a signal to send the message across all corners that ‘the lords’ approve of it. Later, after acceding to the immense condemnation from certain quarters, Lahore High Court took notice of the ‘unnecessary inquisition’ by the ROs and termed it equivalent to insulting the courts, which compelled the ECP to bar the ROs to refrain from irrelevant quizzing.

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

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


  1. The returning officers are from judiciary. It was beyond their scope to ask indecent questions. ECP should have given them some training or a list questionnaire to be asked while interviewing the candidates. This shows the level of mind set and role of higher judiciary.

  2. CJ is getting giddy with power. Supreme Court is dangeroulsy close to being political and partisan in its conduct. Good read.

  3. SC has taken control of the Returning Officers who were always part of the EC. They should not have anything to do with one's religious knowledge. What they should consider, however, is to ensure that no indebted person, defaulter of banks and anyone who is guilty of misusing public funds and manpower is kept out. And they r completely oblivious to all this and making a fool of themselves. Even CM should have nothing to do with Basant etc so that the CEC does not have to stand up and ask him in a public gathering whether elections r going to b held at all.

  4. This is a dictatorial rule by judges in Pakistan. Since judges are accountable to no one, are answerable to no one, are appointed by the bureaucracy, are not elected, have and absolute powers arrogated to themselves, this is the most dangerous and destructive rule for our country. Even generals were held accountable to some extent. This judicial tyranny must be stopped forthwith. Retired judges should be sent home immediately and serving judges should concentrate on their job, to clear the thousands and thousands of legal cases before them in the courts and try to improve the corrupt and inefficient and convoluted system of law and justice in their courts. In no country in the world the judges are king of kings.

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