The Supreme Court verdict yesterday was in a case rooted in politics. The petitioner seeking the disqualification of Mr Khan and Mr Tareen is a PML-N leader, Hanif Abbasi, who approached the court immediately after the first hearing in the Panama Papers case was held.
While the allegations against Mr Khan and Mr Tareen were plainly justiciable and within the powers of the court to decide, they pertained to declarations made by the PTI leaders in their nomination papers for the 2013 general election.
Politics was clearly a motive in the petitions, but just as clearly Mr Khan and Mr Tareen were vulnerable to legal sanction because of complicated financial dealings that wealthy Pakistanis have long considered to be the norm, whatever the letter of the law may state.
Now, if wealthy Pakistanis begin to consider declaring their wealth and assets more accurately and politicians start taking declarations in nomination papers more seriously, a small step in the right direction for the country as a whole may have been taken.
For the PTI, the survival of Imran Khan is not vindication enough. The disqualification of Mr Tareen, the secretary general of the PTI and a figure nearly always seen at the side of Mr Khan, is a significant blow to a party that has relentlessly attacked political opponents for alleged corruption and preached that Pakistan’s progress lies in an unwavering adherence to the rule of law.
Mr Tareen’s disqualification is also uncomfortably close in judicial reasoning to the ouster of the former prime minister and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif. Effectively, a top PTI leader has been stripped of public office for almost the same reason the PTI used to argue Mr Sharif had no right to hold public office.
In recent years, the PTI’s brand of insurrectionist, outsider politics has existed uneasily alongside the party’s embrace of so-called electables. While all politics is a form of compromise and the gap between what politicians pledge and what they do is often large, the PTI’s legitimate quest for power is being undermined by a whatever-it-takes attitude to politics. The rot within the PTI extends significantly further than just Mr Tareen.
For the political class as a whole, the Supreme Court decision ought to be another warning against the growing judicialisation of politics. The invocation of Article 62(1)f and a lifetime ban from politics for misdeclaration without underlying crimes having been proven in a court of law are arguably signs of democracy headed in the wrong direction.
No one, especially elected representatives, is above the law, but the law has to be fair, just and reasonable. A reassessment of the disqualification law is needed; is the political class willing to do so fairly and transparently?
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2017