Dateline Islamabad: Constitutional imbroglio
Tahirul Qadri got the chop. In the end, it all came down to the Queen. If she’s your sovereign, sorry you’ve come to the wrong court with your petition was the curt message to the Pakistani-Canadian cleric from the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Producing the full text of the Canadian citizenship oath, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ruled that Queen Elizabeth II was Qadri’s sovereign. A foreign national (Qadri) cannot be allowed to come here at his will and “attack a constitutional institution” [the Election Commission], declared the Chief Justice categorically.
“You are touching an issue which attacks a constitutional institution established many years before… and you have just come back to Pakistan a couple of months ago and have challenged it,” said the Chief Justice.
Canada is a monarchy. And the Queen is its head of state, being one of the 15 countries in the Commonwealth of Nations. Pakistan too is in the Commonwealth, but it does not have the Queen as its head of state. Our head of state is Asif Ali Zardari who, despite his alleged $60 million in Swiss banks enjoys presidential immunity courtesy our constitution.
But the story does not end here. Nor is Qadri done with it. Many more chapters in the days ahead are expected. The politicised Election Commission is sure to come under scrutiny and cases filed in courts by losers in the forthcoming polls.
Considered ‘skilled’ and ‘wise’, the Sophists in ancient Greece used philosophy and rhetoric to dominate debates. The sophistry of our Supreme Court lordships in Qadri’s case has left a door wide open for issues like dual nationality and flaws in the electoral system. The constitution of Pakistan allows dual nationalities of 16 countries. They can vote but not hold public office.
Yet a Green Card holder like Moeen Qureshi becomes a caretaker prime minister. Millionaire Shaukat Aziz, a ‘foreigner’ is proudly trotted in by Musharraf to head the government for three years. The Supreme Court stays silent. The spineless Election Commission looks the other way. More recently, Zardari violates the constitution by making Rehman Malik and Dr Asim Hussain his cabinet ministers. The Supreme Court is finally moved and rules against them. Notice the timing… just when the PPP government completes its term.
Justice must not be selective.
Now that the Supreme Court has set a precedent in Qadri’s case, it remains to be seen how proactive it gets in seizing ‘foreigners’ and throwing them out for sneaking into the parliaments and violating the constitution.
Meanwhile, voices against the Supreme Court ruling on Qadri get louder by the day. There are around 10 million overseas Pakistanis, Dr Farooq Sattar, Minister for Overseas Pakistanis, states while criticising the Supreme Court judgement. To discriminate against them for holding dual nationality is unfair, especially when the money they send back to Pakistan forms the second largest source of foreign exchange earnings.
However, as per Nadra’s record, there are 4.4 million overseas Pakistanis with national ID cards, and not 10 million as claimed by Farooq Sattar. Besides, all of them do not have dual nationality. Furthermore, barring a few exceptions, almost all those working in the Gulf states hold Pakistani nationality, mainly because they are denied citizenship of the country they are residing in.
As for Pakistani-Americans, our embassy in Washington estimates the number of people of Pakistani origin living in the United States to be around 600,000 and counting. Thousands excitedly board PIA flights thrice a week from New York to Lahore and Karachi on a visit to their motherland. As immigrants, they slog; they save; they scrounge; they are discriminated against and yet they pursue the emigrant dream for themselves and their families back home. A vast majority hold dual nationality. Does it mean that in future they cannot knock on the door of the Supreme Court? Many legal experts like Asma Jehangir and Aitzaz Ahsan feel that the argument for rejecting Qadri’s petition on the basis of dual nationality is thus not a valid one.
The judiciary can pat itself on the back for saving democracy by throwing out Qadri’s plea to reconstitute a politicised Election Commission. Has it ever questioned why our political leaders run away abroad when they become fugitives of the law at home?
Tomorrow if Musharraf returns and claims to lead the country, what will the judges in the Supreme Court do? We all know that the judiciary rules according to ‘exigencies’, existing at that particular time and not strictly according to the constitution. We have a thousand examples before us. Musharraf lives abroad. Surely he has some sort of a visa to live in Britain or the Middle East indefinitely. He may not be a ‘foreigner’ in the eyes of our laws, but every pucca Pakistani has a right to question how Benazir Bhutto lived in Dubai, Asif Zardari in New York, Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia for many years. The Saudis have afforded Nawaz Sharif the option of living in their country when they deny nationality to ordinary Pakistani workers there.
Altaf Hussain, commander of the biggest and most powerful political party in Karachi, has not stepped foot on this soil for 21 years. None dare challenge Hussain’s loyalty to Pakistan. Millions sit in pin drop silence when their leader, a British-Pakistani addresses them on the phone. Karachi follows his writ in word and spirit.
Some xenophobic TV anchors denounce Qadri for holding dual nationality as though it is a crime. Their chauvinistic attack amounts to an attack on all overseas Pakistanis. To doubt their patriotism is prejudice. What they should instead focus on is the maintainability of Qadri’s petition. They can better serve their viewers were they to probe into Qadri’s motives on his sudden descent on Lahore. Tracking his activities over the past seven years and the source of funding is what we want to know. Merely raising a brouhaha on his surprise appearance is a non-starter.
More importantly let the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the media probe into the foreign assets of candidates. Where did the money come from and why was it sent to banks abroad? Answers to these questions don’t require a financial forensic expert. Everything is available on their monthly statements. Just think for a moment: nearly all our politicians from president to prime minister to ministers, chief ministers, governors, MNAs, MPAs, senators, bureaucrats and defence personnel hold foreign accounts and own properties abroad.
These guys will rule forever, no matter what the constitution says.
On the contrary, here’s one person who will forever be deemed a ‘foreigner’ but at heart remains a patriotic Pakistani. Khan immigrates to France in 1963. Dr Tas (Tasadduq) Khan achieves eminence in aerospace research. He authors around 100 publications in international journals. He’s awarded knighthood and receives the prestigious National Order of Merit by the French government, for rendering “exceptional services and for his pioneering work in the field of structural materials used in advanced civil and military aircraft engines.”
But Khan’s love of Pakistan pulls him back again and again.
“I’ve returned to Pakistan nearly every year since the mid-sixties. I could measure the intensity of hate and intolerance which has grown and penetrated our minds. I could listen to comments and opinions which leave me without answers. All these, from the so-called ‘elite’ of Pakistan. Pakistanis are corrupt, cruel crooks and inhuman; they don’t have any real tears. The exploitation of religion in this country has been the most destructive force, even more than corruption.
“On the plane back to Paris, I met a Pakistani guy (I don’t use the word ‘gentleman,’ anymore) who told me that the whole story behind ‘Malala’ is cooked up. He claimed to be a nephew of General Kayani and insisted that he had first hand information from the general’s entourage that Malala was never shot in the head. I didn’t ask his name and didn’t give mine. This guy told me that he was living in Brussels for the past 30 years.
“On a ‘positive’ note, I did meet some very fine persons (journalists, former ambassadors, some more ‘ordinary’ people) to breathe some fresh oxygen even in this polluted Pakistan which made me feel a little more comfortable.”
So why does Khan continue to return home?
“Somehow, I remain attached to the land where I was born and to some close friends and family members. My memories of childhood and as a young man in Pakistan remain pleasant and I want to keep them intact. We had the liberty of debate, a true ability for criticism and freedom of thought. Critical thinking was a part of my education. The clerics were fiercely at work but had not taken over. It is amazing that some of the ‘universal values’ which formed the basis of my education and personality were transmitted to me in places like Lahore’s Central Model School, Government College and through the fairly secular attitude of my parents. All that was a long time ago.”