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As white as driven snow

November 03, 2002

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To their credit it must be said that the Chaudhrys of Gujrat are self-made men. The fountainhead, Chaudhry Zahur Elahi, started life as an assistant sub-inspector of police. Imbued with native shrewdness and realizing that politics was his forte, he entered the fray and slowly rose through the ranks, minting money on his way up.

He educated and trained his progeny so that they may worthily follow in his footsteps and by the time his politically motivated murder was executed, the 'joint family system' consisted of a row of seven or eight palatial mansions on millionaires row in Lahore plus a large industrial empire financed by the country's nationalized banks and the cooperative societies of Punjab.

With the revival of politics, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has emerged triumphant in the October 10 elections and is the parliamentary leader of the party largely formed by the opportunistic defectors and deserters from the Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif to which and to whom they all owe two rounds in power.

On October 24, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, fully confident and flying high, delivered to the nation his Gujratburg Address (composed and written by his official speechwriter and printed on the front page of a national newspaper) which is worthy of countless reproductions and of being recorded in letters of gold in the books written on the history of Pakistan:

"My stance: A question is being asked why I am not the contender for the top slot. Why? I think a short explanation is due, especially so when I have been elected as the parliamentary leader of the single largest party - the Pakistan Muslim League(Q) - to emerge from the October elections. There has been unrelenting pressure from across the nation and from all quarters that I, being the natural and logical choice to head the new government, should not exclude my candidature.

"My family elders saw politics as a vehicle for public service and not for the naked pursuit of power. Helping the people and working for the well-being of the people was their mission. The lasting goodwill and the prayers of the public, which we saw during these elections, is a living proof of that legacy.

"Today, Almighty Allah has blessed the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) with the votes, support and prayers of the people. It is an occasion for thanksgiving, humbleness and also for moral responsibility.

"The two key challenges facing Pakistan are: number one, moral and number two, governance. The moral challenge requires fighting hypocrisy, fostering decency, burying the politics of revenge and promoting public interest at the expense of personal gain. The governance challenge requires tackling the problems of the masses with honesty, integrity and a sense of duty.

"I am being constantly reminded that under the principles of parliamentary democracy, the elected parliamentary leader of the single largest party in the nation should be the prime minister. But that would mean an action replay of the Bhutto and Sharif families who had made the government of Pakistan a 'maasi da vera' (aunty's backyard). This repetition of blind ambitions and dynastic monopoly has to come to a halt. It also means that power is concentrated in the hands of a few - howsoever legitimately acquired it may be - at the expense of the nation.

"Therefore, we are sacrificing a political principle to uphold a moral principle.

"Today, Pakistan stands at the crossroads. It is time for wisdom and sacrifice. If the larger national interest requires a personal sacrifice, then so be it.

"For the sake of Pakistan I am giving up the right to be prime minister of Pakistan when the tradition in the past has been to sacrifice Pakistan for personal political power.

"Lust for power led to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 and in the continuing jump from crisis to crisis.

"There are warnings that a deadly intrigue is brewing. We are completely fearless in this regard. It is our conviction as Muslims that Almighty Allah is the ultimate planner.

"Finally, I bow my head in all humility and gratitude before the Almighty for being vested by my party with the pivotal responsibility of picking the next prime minister of Pakistan during a turning point in history at the start of the 21st century. Make no mistake, I treat this as an amanat'. The sole consideration will be the supreme national interest of Pakistan.

"Before Almighty Allah and my own conscience as a God-fearing Muslim, I promise that I shall not let down the trust reposed in me. Please pray that Allah guide my judgment towards the right decisions and proper choice.

"I hope to see a new dawn of decency and democracy in Pakistan, Inshallah."

Yesterday, it was announced to a patient nation that the Kingmaker Chaudhry had nominated as his party's candidate for primeministership an equally able man, Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali of the under populated, neglected, barren land mass that forms 43 per cent of the area of this country.

But perhaps and hopefully all is not plain sailing. The Chaudhry and his fellow Chaudhry, Pervez Elahi, will have to face the charges levelled against them which warrant disqualification from the political scene in Writ Petition No.18463/2002, Mian Sajid Pervez, president, [of Imran Khan's] Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf Punjab versus Federation of Pakistan, Election Commission of Pakistan, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain [Respondent No.3], Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi [Respondent No.4], Returning Officer, NA105 Gujrat II and PP 110 Gujrat III, filed in the Lahore High Court in the second half of September, by Advocate Hamid Khan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

It has been cited that under Clause (o) of sub-Article 2 of Article 8D of the Conduct of General Elections Order 2002 pertaining to the disqualification of members of our assemblies, it is stipulated that a person stands disqualified if "he has obtained a loan for an amount of two million rupees or more, from any bank, financial institution, cooperative society or corporate body in his own name or in the name of his spouse or any of his dependents, which stands unpaid for more than one year from the due date, or has had such loan written off."

Similarly, Representation of People Act 1976, Section 12(2)(c), provides that a member is not qualified to sit in our assemblies if he makes: "a declaration that no loan for an amount of two million rupees or more obtained from any bank, financial institution, cooperative society or corporate body in his own name or in the name of his spouse or any of his dependents, or any business concern mainly owned by him or the aforesaid, stands unpaid for more than one year from the due date, or has got such loan written off"

This makes it quite clear that any person who has obtained a loan of Rs 2 million or more from any bank and had it written off, stands disqualified from being a member of the national or provincial assemblies.

The writ petition relates that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi obtained a loan in the name of the company of which they were both directors, Punjab Sugar Mills Limited of Mian Channu, from the National Bank of Pakistan. In 1999, Rs.37.987 million was written off, which fact is recorded in the annual report of the bank for that year. At the time, Shujaat was the federal minister of interior and Pervaiz was speaker of the Punjab Assembly.

The two Chaudhrys obtained another loan from the Muslim Commercial Bank Limited for their Punjab Sugar Mills Limited and in 2000 a sum of Rs 22.792 million was written off, which fact is recorded in the annual report of the Bank for that year.

According to the law, as it stands today, it appears that both the Chaudhrys fully qualify for disqualification.

Technically speaking, Imran's writ petition filed in the Lahore High Court - not heard and decided - is now infructuous, but the disqualification, if established, is a continuing one, and can be invoked at any time by any concerned or aggrieved person in appropriate proceedings before the Election Tribunal or the Supreme Court.

Now what? Are the Chaudhys worth a further amendment in the laws of our pure but poor Republic of Pakistan?