The decadence of politics

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Did someone think the secret letter to Swiss Authorities would be kept secret?

The stop-start democracy in Pakistan, even after sixty-five years of the nation’s birth, is fragile, to say the least. The sclerotic development of democracy in our land, and people’s faith in such democracy, has been blamed on khaki inventions, judicial hurdles, foreign agendas, and the overall civilian-military imbalance. And there is much truth to such an assertion.

But one key factor, which frequently gets overlooked while understanding the rot of our democratic paradigm, is the character and conduct of our political junta, and its supporters. For my money, decadence of our political culture and integrity, perhaps more than anything else, has been the force behind a loss of faith in our democracy. It has disillusioned the common man, and created a void, which, from time to time, gets filled by the military or the judiciary.

The latest, and perhaps the most austere example of this decadence of our politics, is the unveiling of the startling fact that the former PPP government wrote a secret (second) letter to the Swiss Authorities, away from the eyes of the Supreme Court and (what is infinitely more important) the people of Pakistan(!), declaring that there is no case pending against the President, and asking for “official confirmation” that no proceedings against the President shall take place in Switzerland.

The belligerence of this latest letter, to be best appreciated, has to be viewed in the sequence of events that preceded it. In 1997, the tainted Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau of the then Nawaz Sharif government, under the auspiciousness of the then Attorney General (late) Ch. Muhammad Farooq, wrote to the Swiss authorities to request for mutual legal assistance in getting $60 million of kick-back money from Asif Ali Zardari, relating to the SGS/Cotectna contracts. After promulgation of the NRO in 2007, the Attorney General of the newly elected PPP government, Malik Qayyum, in May 2008 wrote a letter to the Swiss authorities requesting that the Government of Pakistan no longer wanted to be a party in the proceedings against Asif Ali Zardari. Thereafter, allegedly and in response to this letter by Malik Qayyum, the Swiss authorities closed the case on 25th August, 2008. No further communication, in this regard, was made with the Swiss Authorities till after the 16th December 2009 judgment of the apex Court which struck down the NRO, and ordered the government to reassert its status as a civil party in the case pending in Switzerland. The government refused to write to the Swiss authorities in this regard, preferring, instead, to sacrifice a Prime Minister for the cause. Subsequently, under extreme pressure from the Supreme Court, the opposition parties, and the media, the PPP government, through its Law Secretary, wrote a letter to the Swiss Authorities on 5th November, 2012, seeking a “revival” of the case proceedings. This, every sane minded individual in the realm, thought would be the final episode in this stupendous drama.

But then again, Pakistan politics is not a realm of sane-minded individuals!

In scene that could easily resemble an episode from some John Grisham novel, in the dark of the night (perhaps in a shady alley, under a solitary lamp-post, with the distant sound of an ambulance siren in the background) Justice (retd.) Yasmin Abbasey, the Law Secretary of the former government, in all probability on instructions from the higher ups (who would have met her wearing a dark grey rain-coat and CIA hats), drafted a second (detailed) letter for the Swiss Authorities, undoing the entire excruciating exercise that had been undertaken by the nation over the past two years. And with a change of guard in the government, this covert operation, by legal cow-boys, has been brought to light, at the utter astonishment and disgust of us all.

Naturally, there will be consequences. At the very least, the former Law Secretary has committed a grave contempt of the apex court. And this big a decision could, under no circumstances, have been taken by her alone. In case she musters the courage to bring forth the truth, all those who were privy to this malicious event, would also stand to bear the brunt of contempt. And possibly other penal consequences falling within the contours of perpetrating a fraud on the public. But all that will be answered in time. The law will take its course.

More immediately, this episode is an interesting insight into the rot of our political dispensation. It is hard to hard to fathom what would have been the contemplation of the perpetrators of this fraud? Did they, in this day and age of open media and judicial oversight, honestly believe that a letter, officially written by one government to another, would be kept in the dark forever? Would there be no way of tracking or finding out a record of it, even if the official documents have magically disappeared in the Law Ministry? Did they send the letter through a pigeon? Were they wearing an invisibility cloak during the discussions? And in case they did imagine that the letter would eventually come to light, did they think that it would just be another one of those partisan trickeries that could explained through a barrage of blind supporters on 8 o’ clock talk shows? And while on the point, what kind of nerve would one have to have, even as a PPP supporter, to come onto different news channels to defend this action of the Law Secretary? At some point, the disingenuous argument, falls off the cliff of reasonability, into the abyss of ridiculousness. And that is exactly where those defending the actions of the Law Secretary, find themselves.

As a side-note, the defense, in this case, of the Law Secretary by the PPP stalwarts is no different from the defense launched by the PML-N supporters in the aftermath of the Mehran Bank Scandal, or even the supporters of the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the Arsalan Iftikhar case. When will our partisan loyalties be trumped by the voices of our conscience? When will truth, reason and law, be celebrated over the ideals of being more loyal than the king?

For thinking minds, this fraud by the PPP government, is a reflection of the larger malady of decadence in our politics. It has eroded the already brittle confidence that people have in civilian rulers. And done tremendous damage to the integrity of politics in our land.

Incompetence granted, is honesty in politics too much to ask?

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected]