Let us start by asking the wrong question: will Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif be disqualified by the Supreme Court?
The question — our Big Bang theory — is wrong for a number of reasons:
1. No one knows the answer because there is no answer yet. The Joint Investigation Team is, well, investigating and no one except the members of the JIT (one hopes) knows the extent (or lack thereof) of the evidence collected yet. If all is well in this system of ours, there cannot be a pre-determined decision about the fate of the prime minister till the JIT report is presented in front of the three-member implementation bench which in turn will decide on the basis of the report how it wants to take the case forward.
2. Since there are no facts available to constitute a credible answer to this question, most amongst us use their opinion as a crutch to attempt an answer. However, it is no secret that an opinion formed without a solid foundation of facts is more akin to a wish or a desire. A question whose attempted answer is weaker than a weak opinion is a question better left unasked.
3. Since no one knows the answer, and no one can know the answer and perhaps most importantly, no one should know the answer at this stage, the constant and repetitive asking of this question betrays a collective habit of de-analysing situations. Such rhetorical questions can be conversation-starters or ice-breakers at social gatherings but even in such environs a proper framing of the question can bring clarity to the response. One can argue that every question does not need to have a solid, evidence-based, numerically-proven answer and yet even such questions should contain within themselves a certain strain of logic that hints at an intelligible answer. The question in question here does not do that.
And yet the trouble with this question is more than just misplaced framing. Consider the following:
a. The question is flippant in the sense of it betraying a casual indifference to the representative system by which elected people are entrusted responsibility in the name of ‘we the people’. How can the question about the removal of a prime minister be bandied about without first discussing the reasons for the removal and their validity within a democratic framework? If you delink the removal of a prime minister from the in-depth perusal of the reasons on which the removal is based — as most of those asking this question are wont to do — you are, wittingly or unwittingly, sanitising a discussion which should be drenched in value-judgments. In other words, discussing the solidity of the grounds on which he could be removed is far more relevant for the strength and durability of the democratic system than merely speculating on whether he would be disqualified.
b. This is linked to the other dangerous part of the question: ‘forces are aligned’ to get him out. These age-old whispers find traction when they are callously thrown about in public discourse by irresponsible practitioners of debate. Discussing and debating the ouster of a prime minister as if it is a decision made by unnamed forces is so 1990-ish. Then again, maybe some bad habits we have not outgrown. The problem with this line of argument is the same: a disturbing lack of value-judgement in framing the debate. In a mature democracy there can never be a question posed in this manner: “Are the forces aligned to oust a prime minister?” Rather it will be framed in terms like: “How to ensure the accountability of a prime minister stays within the framework of laid down law”.
The trouble with this question therefore is symptomatic of the trouble with our fragile system: stakeholders want it to be tailored to suit their interests. For seven decades the power-elites have been bending and twisting this system to their advantage all in the name of the system itself. In the hotchpotch of arguments presented over and over again through these decades to justify the system as practised at that moment, chaos and confusion have infected the normally clear lines between right and wrong. The miserable failure of these elites in governing for the greater good manifests itself in every sphere of our lives even today.
Look at how the Balochistan MPA crushed to death a traffic policeman and sauntered around with sickening arrogance. Look at the heart-wrenching disaster in Bahawalpur and the ensuing findings that motorway police and the local police and the administration and fire safety people failed to respond in time. Look at the callousness with which the civil and military leadership responded to the carnage in Parachinar and only moved after a deluge of criticism. Look at the devastation in Karachi after two days of rain and the criminal apathy and incompetence of the Sindh government on display — again. Look at Asif Ali Zardari lecturing others on democracy while his own government is put to shame by its pathetic governance in Sindh.
These are all tell-tale signs of a power-elite refusing to respond to the organic demands of the people of Pakistan. There is much that is wrong with all stakeholders in the power game — and yet two wrongs do not make a right.
And nothing signifies this wrong in the present context than the wrong question: “Will Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif be disqualified by the Supreme Court?” To inject strength into the system, we should instead be concerned less about whether he will be disqualified and more on whether evidence can be brought about to withstand all scrutiny if he is actually removed from his present job.
Make no mistake: a public discourse that skews the framework of the debate and dilutes value-judgements in favour of superficial derision aimed at opponents leads to the weakening of the system on which the entire edifice of democratic institutions is built.
The Big Bang theory should have legs to stand on.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2017.