Losing logic: Political pardons in Lahore

The ‘chief ministerial’ pardon bears an uncanny resemblance to the legacy of pardons handed down by our presidents?

Aatekah Mir-khan November 14, 2010

You have got to love politicians. It’s ‘adorable’ how they seem to have been invented from the same mould.

The Punjab chief minister directed authorities last Sunday that all cases registered against clerics “who raised a voice against the anti-Islamic steps and barbarities of Musharraf” be withdrawn. According to Sharif, the clerics deserved credit for upholding the truth during the dictator’s regime.  But the authorities concerned, the home and public prosecution departments, are now in a conundrum, disagreeing over what the CM meant. The former believes that the order only extends to the cases registered against religious leaders who held anti-blasphemy protests in Lahore. The latter thinks that the directive extends to all cases registered against clerics, no matter what the reason.

Who can blame the Prosecution Department for wanting to dispose of 500 cases – the total cases registered against clerics – instead of around 300, which deal with those who took part in protests against the publication of caricatures of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in Danish newspapers? Apart from that, some of the other cases deal with protests against the Lal Masjid operation. Others still deal with those booked under the Maintenance of Public Order for delivering hate-speeches –against other religious sects as well as the government – demanding restoration of the religion column in passports and condemning the General (retired) for his “Ahmadi-friendly” policies.  Shahbaz Sharif had given the authorities 48 hours to implement his directive. Of course that did not happen, like all other times when the government gives a short deadline. The vague order can be blamed this once, to be fair. However, the CM will have to explain what he meant.

The ‘chief ministerial’ pardon bears an uncanny resemblance to the legacy of pardons handed down by our presidents, whether they be given to an individual, as in the case of Rehman Malik, or an entire army of politicians, the infamous NRO. Oh, the rage and contempt that the presidents’ orders had generated, especially the Sharifs who still fling the criticism at the government whenever they get the chance.  But this time the pardon, which is a Punjabi parody of the originals, went unnoticed.

Being an aalim (religious scholar) does not or should not mean that someone is above the law. Nor should being a scholar or a cleric mean that you get to have a clean slate with the swish of a political wand. How is this clean slate being given to religious ‘leaders’ any different from the one that was being handed to politicians? The two deal with corruption and religion but the motive behind both of them is political, regardless of whether it is meant to serve the one who pardons in the short or the long term.

Political victimisation should be condemned, no matter who it targets. Taking a case to case approach while deciding who to pardon might be the way to go. Clerics and scholars, who were booked simply because they criticised Musharraf, might have been unfair targets but what about the people who incited hatred? Surely they should be held accountable in order to discourage others who may be tempted to do the same next time.

Aatekah Mir Khan A graduate of the London School of Economics and a Daniel Pearl fellow, the writer is a senior sub-editor at The Express Tribune in Lahore. aatekah.khan@tribune.com.pk
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.