Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 24, 2017

Minister’s indiscretion Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has a penchant for landing himself and his government in controversy. True to his track record, he has set off another furore because of comments on the judiciary, establishment, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. On all these scores, the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly decided to take the minister to task during the session of the house on January 23. But before the Leader of the Opposition, PTI’s Mahmoodur Rasheed, could utter even a word on the issue, he and the entire Opposition had to butt their heads against the wall of intransigence thrown up by Speaker Rana Iqbal, who refused to allow Mahmoodur Rasheed to speak. The following uproar by the Opposition could easily have been avoided. Surely the heavens would not have fallen if the honourable Speaker had seen fit to act more like the custodian of the house and less like a partisan of the ruling PML-N from whence he ascended to the august Speaker’s chair. Ironically, amidst the uproar, it took an intervention by none other than the target of the Opposition’s wrath, Rana Sanaullah, to resolve the unnecessary row. The law minister prevailed upon the spectacle of an immovable rock presented by the Speaker by arguing that if the Leader of the Opposition was allowed to speak, this would afford him an opportunity to rebut the criticism directed at him. This ‘lesson’ in the way the house is supposed to function finally so impressed the Speaker that he melted and gave Mahmoodur Rasheed the floor. Rasheed found Sanaullah’s take on the Panama case before the Supreme Court, the lapsed military courts and the qualities of head and heart possessed by Imran Khan “highly objectionable”. Sanaullah in a TV appearance the other day had compared the role of ‘certain forces’ in trying to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through the courts with the manner in which similar forces had connived to bring about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s “judicial murder”. He had asserted that these forces were trying to pressurise the judiciary to give a verdict favourable to them in the Panama case. He had criticised the lapsed military courts for their inadequacies and opposed their revival/extension. Mahmoodur Rasheed lambasted the minister for suggesting that some ‘forces’ were out to oust Nawaz Sharif by counter-arguing that the incumbent prime minister had grown (if not grown up) in the company of these very forces, which therefore posed no threat to him. He was also critical of Sanaullah’s ‘name-calling’ the establishment and Imran Khan. Now for Rana Sanaullah’s defence. Taking up the last first, Sanaullah denied his pointed comments were aimed at Imran Khan. Rather he had meant an Imran ally, Sheikh Rasheed. The latter’s usual off-the-cuff remarks lately included a reference to the ‘coffin’ of the incumbent rulers having to be taken out of the Supreme Court once the verdict in the Panama case was announced. Sanaullah hit back by saying if ‘coffins’ was someone’s desire, they would emerge from every nook and corner in the event an elected prime minister was removed in this manner. The people, the minister asserted, would not accept the ousting of the political leadership through “non-political and undemocratic” means. In any case the minister expressed complete confidence in the judiciary and prophesied the government would be vindicated in the case. As to ‘forces’, the minister tried to clear the air (and minimise any risk) by saying he was referring to those who held sit-ins. The entire episode reeks of inappropriateness. First, the Speaker’s unnecessary obstruction of the normal thrust and parry of parliamentary debate. Second, transcending the norm of not discussing a sub judice matter until it is decided. Third, making institutions of state such as the judiciary and military unnecessarily controversial. But for the sake of fairness, it must be said that breach of restraint regarding a sub judice matter has been on display since the Panama case hearing started. The media hype around the case picks through every word and twitch of an eyebrow during the proceedings and tries to make a ‘case’ out of it. Let alone ministers, every Tom, Dick and Harry feels free to comment ‘expertly’ on the proceedings. The Supreme Court for its part has shown monumental patience with this media circus so far, the bench resisting a request for a gag order but cautioning all to let the court do its work. As to Rana Sanaullah and other ministers of his ilk, they may be better served, and serve their government better, were they to confine themselves to their respective portfolios and leave the task of defending the government or delineating its policies to official spokesmen appointed by the government. That may usher in some peace and quiet, not to mention appropriateness in the manner in which issues of public import are handled.

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