Although the 16-year-old saga of the ISI doling out funds to politicians in the 1990s finally ended on Friday with the Supreme Court’s judgment in theAsghar Khan case, apprehensions are being expressed if the verdict marks the end of political activities in the presidency forever.
In a four-page short order, the court accepted that the mandate of the PPP had been stolen in the 1990 elections, but at the same it observed that the president was expected to rise above political leanings and play an impartial role.
Legal observers who always pounce on every opportunity to dissect court’s verdicts appear to be divided on the question of whether the judgment would have any binding effect on President Asif Zardari. “Instead of reaching a conclusion we should wait
for the detailed judgment,” they said.
“In a parliamentary system of governance, the president being head of the state represents the unity of the republic under Article 41 of the Constitution. And as per the oath of his office, in all circumstances, he will do right to all manner of people, according to the law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Thus holder of office of president violates the constitution if he fails to treat all manner of people equally and without favouring any set, according to law and, as such, creates/provides an occasion which may lead to an action against him under the Constitution and the law,” the judgment said.
“The paragraph in the judgment is problematic as it can be interpreted in a way that may translate into imposing restriction on the president to preside over or attend political activities of a party he belongs to,” said a senior lawyer who did not want to be named.
“If what I understood is correct then the president needs to give a second thought on his plan to address a rally scheduled for Oct 25 in Mandi Bahuddin (Punjab). Besides, the judgment may also bar the president from playing an active supervisory role in the ensuing general elections,” he said.
The judgment clearly imposed a ban on the president from getting involved in political activities, former president of the Balochistan High Court Bar Hadi Shakeel said. “It is time that the president should quit the political office of PPP co-chairman,” he said, adding that the Lahore High Court was seized with a petition seeking contempt proceedings against the president for holding dual office.
But Advocate Chaudhry Faisal Hussain was of the opinion that the judgment had no direct binding effect on President Zardari because it came against the backdrop of allegations that a political cell had been created in the presidency to manipulate the 1990 elections and stop former prime minister Benazir Bhutto from forming a government at the centre.
A new petition, he said, would be needed if someone wanted to restrict Mr Zardari from presiding over political meetings in the presidency.
During the course of proceedings, Attorney General Irfan Qadir had reminded the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that the Constitution never barred the president from heading a political party.
He contended that it was not mentioned in the oath of office of the president, the prime minister, the federal minister or a provincial minister that they should not indulge in politics. It was specifically mentioned with regard to members of the armed forces and the judiciary (code of conduct), he said.
“No judge, including the chief justice, has been mandated to regulate political functions which the president as of right can pursue,” he said.
Mr Qadir also reminded that President Zardari was not in any way posing threat to dislodging a duly-elected government either at the federal or at the provincial level because at present there was no article like 58(2b) which used to be invoked in the past to send elected governments packing.