Pakistan has had many problems in a very short time since the reinstatement of democracy. The escalation of militancy, sectarian violence in Karachi, the devastating floods, constant drone attacks and the constant clashing between various governmental institutions has all negatively affected the country. The ongoing tussle between the Executive and the Judiciary, with the military lurking in the corners however is an issue whose outcome could very well determine how the government will act to alleviate all the other problems that a population of 180 million are collectively facing.
In all of Pakistan’s 63 years of existence democracy has been unable to flourish because of both bad governance and the military’s lack of trust in the elected representatives. And now the Judiciary, which from at least afar seems to be the only stable and neutral institution, will do all it can to bring to trial the President and at least 15 key government officials, which include the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik and the Ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani. A list of government officials; those are benefitting under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), have been sent to the PM, Yousaf Raza Gilani. But all Gilani has said so far is that these officials should ‘voluntarily’ quit public office. The NRO’s main objective was to prevent President Asif Zardari’s case regarding his finances in Switzerland from being reopened, however the Supreme Court struck this as unconstitutional.
Gilani goes on to state that,
“The president is an integral part of parliament and he is the supreme commander of the armed forces. How can cases be reopened against the president when he enjoys immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution?”
Publicly, he has asked the Supreme Court to show patience and wait till Zardari’s tenure as President is over before bringing him to trial. However in doing so, Gilani purposely or not, fails to consider the main issue: Zardari could (miraculously) be reelected as President for another term, and hence he will once again be immune from any trial regarding his finances in Switzerland. That is if the Supreme Court does in fact waits for his tenure to end.
Many have accused the Judiciary of assisting the military by weakening Zardari’s government, but this is far from the truth. The Judiciary has ‘buried the doctrine of necessity’ (that was used by the Judiciary to approve military rule), when Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry pushed Pervez Musharraf (military dictator) out of power . The Lahore High Court has also issued a notice to file a treason case against Pervez Musharraf for violating the Constitution and ousting a democratically elected government in 1999. The Judiciary though once a stern ally of the military can no longer be thought in the same light, a return to military rule will only undo everything the Chief Justice has worked so hard to implement, nor does it seem that Pakistani’s are ready for military rule to once again return.
Gilani however has more important issues to deal with than bailing out his President. Pakistan is in major debt and the recent floods have cost them over $43 billion and left over 20 million people homeless. It is hoped that the government will set up a system for collecting income taxes, which will certainly create revenue and relieve existing pressures on the economy. Musharraf’s regime already collected information through a tax survey, which will expand the list of registered taxpayers. Though the population eventually rebuked this system, because lets face it, who wants to pay income tax, it is absolutely necessary that the government coerce all citizens into paying the required amount. At the moment there are 180 million people in Pakistan but there are only a staggering 1.91 million registered taxpayers. And of these individuals 1.05 million are salaried persons. Breaking the information down from city to city to show how much worse it gets; in Karachi a city of over 10 million people (officially), corporate and non-corporate registered taxpayers only comes to 201,038 as of January 2010. In Lahore there are only 57, 288 registered taxpayers, there are certainly many more people in that city.
The issue however has taken a turn for the worse since a damning report has been released in which it has stated that Gilani’s cabinet ministers have failed to pay income tax for the last five years. In a cabinet that includes 43 federal ministers and 18 ministers of state this is a very serious concern. These are exactly the types of issues to which opposition parties and even the Supreme Court can latch onto, Gilani could even face a vote of non-confidence if the situation escalates. And rightly so, how can the government properly implement taxes and expect people to pay if the governing officials themselves have not done so. The approximate expenditure of a minister per day is Rs. 100,000 ($ 1,159.96), it is hypocritical for Gilani to not pay and is exactly why the Judiciary is hot after the government’s heels. That is what the Judiciary really is for, to ensure that the government is held accountable in such situations, and it seems that it will keep the pressure on the government to ensure it does so.
Gilani has also agreed to cut down the number of ministers within his cabinet to 11% of the memberships of the two houses of parliament as has been laid down by the 18th Amendment. Expect the Judiciary to watch from the background as the government tries to implement both a income tax system and also purge itself of ‘unwanted ministers’. What can be said for now thankfully is that the Judiciary will no doubt allow democracy to flourish on its own; politicians will just have to be careful they do not go beyond their bounds.