Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan's former prime minister, is the latest to be targeted by the NAB. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

The outgoing Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has been disqualified from contesting elections from his National Assembly constituency, NA-57 in Murree, for life.

The eight-page verdict against Abbasi on Wednesday said the former premier breached Article 62(1)(f) of the constitution and hence was not sadiq and ameen [truthful and honest].

While Abbasi has decided to challenge the verdict against him in the Lahore High Court, the decision appears to be a further example of the law being used to sideline politicians in Pakistan.

The Article 62(1)(f) says: “A person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of (the Parliament) unless: he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, sadiq and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law.”

Two sub-clauses before it, 62(1)(d and e) declare that anyone who “violates Islamic Injunctions” is “sinful”, or does not practice “obligatory duties prescribed by Islam” or does not have “adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings” will not be ineligible for the Parliament as well.

Legal clauses keep civilian leaders on a leash

While the original 1973 Constitution of Pakistan did not have Islamic provisions in Articles 62 and 63, which cater to the eligibility of the parliamentarians, the Islamist clauses were added under the military dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Politicians and legal experts perceive the impossible standards set in these clauses as the military’s design to keep the civilian leadership on a leash.

Nawaz Sharif was ousted after being found to have breached Article 62(1)(f). The former premier maintained that the verdict against him was part of an Army-judiciary alliance to undermine Parliamentary supremacy.

In addition to Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, another Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Asif, who served as the foreign and defense minister in the outgoing government, had also been disqualified by the Islamabad High Court. The decision against Asif, however, was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Similarly, Jehangir Tareen, a leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), a party believed to have the backing of the military was disqualified under Article 62(1)(f).

Even so, while the Constitution doesn’t mention the duration of the disqualification, in a crucial decision in April the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that anyone found guilty of breaching the clause would be banned from the Parliament for life.

The inertia against the clauses being removed through amendments has been maintained by the political parties’ own resistance to such changes. Among those that have opposed the amendment in the past is the PML-N itself.

‘Fear of riots, Army resistance hindered changes’

Leaders of the PML-N, PTI and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have all vowed to amend the Constitution to remove these provisions when talking to Asia Times. However, the reality is that no government in power has been able to touch the Islamic clauses.

Senior PPP leader Farhatullah Babar, a staunch critic of the clauses, says they are too wide-ranging and open to arbitrary interpretations, and hence need to be amended.

“Who is ‘sagacious and righteous’ and who is not, is likely to be determined by who is sitting in judgment and who is being judged, instead of any hard and objective criterion,” he said.

“For the first time, this article has been invoked to disqualify some political leaders from contesting elections. It is not hard to imagine a floodgate of petitions opening against rival candidates.”

Lahore High Court advocate and legal analyst Shoaib Saleem said the Islamist clauses were used time and again with a clandestine understanding by the establishment and judiciary.

“And these are always used selectively. Like [Awami Muslim League chief] Sheikh Rasheed is sadiq and ameen despite the fact that he admitted a misdeclaration of assets but said it happened mistakenly,” Shoaib told Asia Times.

Farhatullah Babar said that while Zia introduced the changes to keep a check on civilian politicians the resistance of right-wing parties has prevented the clauses being amended.

“The rightists in Pakistan have been defending this law in the name of faith and religion. The secular political parties got a chance to amend it at the time of 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010. A historic opportunity had presented itself before them,” he said. “However, unfortunately, a major political party, namely the PML-N, refused to amend these articles… Eight years down the line the PML-N leadership itself has become a victim of this perverted law.”

Meanwhile, Shoaib Saleem believes that the resistance against the amendment also comes from the Army leadership.

“[The resistance to change is] because allegedly Islam will be in ‘danger’ and [the] vote bank of political parties will get damaged. There will also be a fear of public riots by religious parties. And [the military establishment] will resist this initiative,” he said.

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