Pakistan has a horrendous history of mistreating its elected prime ministers. On July 28, the Pakistan Supreme Court disqualified sitting prime minister Nawaz Sharif under the “sadiq and amin “clause of the 1973 Constitution. The Court found the prime minister to be dishonest and untrustworthy. Since August 1947, in seventy years of Pakistan’s existence, prime ministers have been overthrown in military coups, removed by high courts, murdered, and executed. Not a single prime minister has been able to complete the constitutional tenure.
By contrast, not a single military general has been successfully prosecuted for overthrowing the Constitution or subverting the institutions. For example, scores of cases are filed against General Pervez Musharraf charging him with treason, murder, unlawful detention of Supreme Court Justices. The Supreme Court did little to assure that the General is prosecuted under the laws of Pakistan. After failed attempts to bring him to justice, the General was allowed to leave Pakistan. The courts believed that the General would voluntarily return to face the cases. He hasn’t.
There are two main reasons why the prime ministers are punished but the military generals escape accountability.
The armed forces behave as unified political force and do not allow the civilian government or courts to scrutinize the illegal undertakings of the high military command. This military solidarity is beneficial to the extent that the armed forces remain united through thick and thin and do not politically fracture. The discipline in the high command assures a strong defense against internal and external enemies. It also prevents possible civil wars with a divided army.
Furthermore, the decision to intervene and overthrow democratically elected governments is taken through consensus of the high command. Since every general’s skin is in the game, the unwritten code of protection triggers into action if a general in complicity faces legal difficulty. General Musharraf was able to defy the court orders of appearance and seek refuge in a military hospital because the generals in power at the time were resolved to protect Musharraf from criminal prosecution and find a way for him to leave the country.
While the military high command is united in purpose and methodology, political parties, mostly dynastic and personalist in organization, are woefully divided. The heads of political parties nurse personal grudges and quarrel with each other, much in the tradition of vengeful tribal chiefs. Parties might have different economic and ideological platforms on paper, but the real fights remain interpersonal.
The heads of political parties are prepared to collude with the military generals to face each other down. Except perhaps for one or two political parties, most others are open to collusion with the military generals. In opportune times, the high military command has summoned, funded, and colluded with party chiefs to topple elected governments.
The most convenient excuses available to criticize the ruling parties are the perennial charges of rigged elections and corruption. Such is the political tradition in Pakistan that very few political opponents accept the results of general elections. Almost all party chiefs who have been in government are inculpated with corruption, which means they are accused of “stealing money” from government projects or through undue influence. Unfortunately, the charges of corruption are easily believable because Pakistan, like most other Muslim countries, is a leading corrupt country in the world corruption index.
Pakistan is a complicated country with frail political traditions. Many politicians are indeed corrupt and elections are rigged wherever rigging is feasible. Because political parties lack internal democracy, party heads act as tribal chiefs demanding personal loyalty and dynastic continuity. Politicians nurse personal animosities against each other and do not hesitate to collude with the military high command to pull each other down. While the high courts are gaining courage to bring down prime ministers, they still hesitate to apply the same legal standards to military generals who undermine the Constitution. This judicial duality is unlikely to change in the near future.