Let’s banish bans

Published August 14, 2022
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

IS there any possibility we can banish this politics of bans from the country? First, it was Nawaz Sharif banned for life from running for office, now the same sort of cloud is hanging over Imran Khan; and while that move will take some time to play out, PTI’s media partner, ARY News is also facing a ban.

One hopes that the judiciary can thwart these ludicrous attempts aimed at banning politicians and TV channels and also reverses the historical wrong delivered under its own hand to disqualify an elected prime minister. If anything, it is such judicial, institutional overreach that should be curbed.

Let me be honest, I don’t subscribe to what the channel in question puts out in the name of journalism but my solution is to exercise my choice via the remote. There are a number of options such as changing to a channel whose journalism is closer to what journalism ought to be or simply switching off the TV.

Believe me, exercising the last option would usher in peace and infinite amounts of sanity in your life. A cacophony of noises that the bulk of the prime time ‘talk shows’ represent is hardly enlightening, enriching or even entertaining.

The option to change channels or stop watching at all should rest with the viewer.

Mostly, such shouting matches betray the participants’ ignorance, even outright dishonesty. Not just that. You also have to put up with often uninformed, pompous, laughing-at-their-own jokes, agenda-peddling anchors. But the option to change channels or stop watching at all should rest with the user ie the viewer.

Read: Rethinking bans

It is that simple. No other measure is warranted or acceptable. Once governments, and worst still other powerful institutions, start resorting to or instigating such draconian measures, you can be sure that the law would be twisted to suit their own purposes and miscarriages of justice would become inevitable.

The argument against ‘banning’ politicians is even stronger. Remember Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was hanged after a sham trial with the purpose of striking such fear in the hearts of those who admired and followed him that they’d forget him and his popular politics.

The first opportunity the supporters got to speak their minds, they put his party and daughter back in office, despite all sorts of machinations to shut the door on her. She was elected a second time and then was murdered to stop her march into office a third time. Even then, her party couldn’t be kept out of office.

One dictator inserted clauses in the Constitution to undermine parliament and maintain his own primacy; later, an elected parliament scrapped it. Then a second dictator restored the infamous clause but was later ousted himself by democratic forces.

Elected politicians of all hues saw sense and decided to undo the awful anomaly inserted into the Constitution and, through an amendment, struck out Article 58-2(b), which vested the power to scrap an elected parliament in the president.

However, it did not take long for extra-parliamentary institutions and forces to innovate and come up with other means to knock out elected politicians with a parliamentary majority. Yousuf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif were the victims of these innovations where the law was ‘interpreted’ to throw out the elected leader of the House of lawmakers.

Of course, you can block popular politicians from running for office but can you also prise their popularity from their support base? The answer has to be a resounding no. The following Nawaz Sharif continues to command despite his ‘technical knockout’ is a case in point.

It is bad enough ousting popular, democratic leaders from politics. But it is outright dangerous when you do the same to populist leaders. It lends credence to each one of their conspiracy theories and strengthens their fanatical support base and possibly moves them into an incendiary phase where their forced exit from politics can be more destabilising than their presence.

Call me naïve, but the politicians’ fate has to be left in the hands of the electorate as all other ‘means’ to stop their politics are doomed to failure from the word go. All this is not to say that the politicians themselves have often not found it convenient to ride into office on the coat-tails of forces that should be banished from politics.

A lot of the heartburn politicians experience is no more than the reaction of a jilted lover when another one of their ilk beats them to take prime position on the coat-tails of extra-parliamentary forces and they themselves are left feeling high and dry. This calls for a moment of reflection.

In our current political state of play, the refusal of one politician to talk to the others can’t be called sensible. Neither is it a matter of principle as the politician has publicly stated what the erstwhile ‘same page’ with powerful institutions delivered to him, including a parliamentary majority. How could talking to fellow politicians be worse?

Against this rather bleak background, one hopes that when the highly partisan President Arif Alvi says he is willing to mediate between the prime minister and his main political rival, the former prime minister, he is speaking from knowledge that finally his leader has seen sense. Particularly in seeing that his own and the country’s salvation lie in developing a minimum common agenda, a political consensus on some key constitutional and economic issues which can strengthen the rule of law and democracy in Pakistan and potentially deliver some relief to the shirtless.

Nothing else can curtail the exercise of absolute power by institutions not answerable to parliament or to the people and hence they often overstep the line, causing irreversible damage to the system and plunging the country into wholly avoidable crises.

Correction: In my last column whatever the argument I was trying to make, I ended up implying that exports rose in July. As a reader pointed out that was a mistake. My apologies for the error.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2022

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